For Sport and Spirit, Swim Across America

"What we’re doing today will have a great effect."
Griffin Taylor, of New York City and Montauk, winner of the one-mile swim, was the first of the some 170 participants to exit the water. Jack Graves

   Having just swum a mile in Gardiner’s Bay Saturday morning as part of a Swim Across America cancer-research fund-raising event, Arnie Paster, a 68-year-old Southamptoner who had raised more than $15,000 on his own, said to the scores of participants and volunteers assembled around him, “We’re all going to die. But we don’t have to die of cancer. What we’re doing today will have a great effect.”
    Wendy Tarlow, who, with Tom Hand, a former Montauk Rugby player, and about 60 other Tarlow-Hand teammates, had raised upward of $70,000 for Swim Across America in recent weeks, had made a similar point earlier that morning.
    “Today,” Tarlow said, “these teams [nine had banners up on the edge of the beach at the end of Fresh Pond Road] have raised $175,000 — just for this one event. But they could be having fund-raisers the year round. I’m going to be working with them in the coming year on that. Our team did a fund-raiser recently at B. Smith’s which raised from $6,500 to $7,000. Michelle [DelGiorno’s] karate students did a kick-a-thon [at Epic Martial Arts in Sag Harbor] which raised $6,500. . . .”
    There was hope, she said. Research had been yielding promising results, though that work, such as is being done at the Swim Across America lab at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, required more vigorous backing. She would have been swimming that day had she not undergone an operation 10 days before. Instead, the Sag Harborite, who has been in and out of the hospital because of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for the past two years, waded out into the water so she could greet every one of the some 170 swimmers as they came in from having swum half-mile, mile, or 5K legs in the placid bay.
    Rod McClave, a triathlete and long-distance swimmer who lives part time in Water Mill, and who won the 5K, said he’d lost five friends to cancer in the past year, “three of them under 40. . . . It’s been shocking . . . one after another. So, this event has great meaning for me.”
    Sinead FitzGibbon, an Irish-born physical therapist who won among the women in the 5K, and who is a member of Team Tarlow-Hand, said on emerging from the water, “This is one of the most important sports events on the East End. There’s a rare sense of community here. We’re doing it for the sport, which can be likened to moving meditation, and for the spirit.”
    Swimming was interesting too, she said, because, with the purging of wasteful motion one could more efficiently and thus more swiftly glide through the water. “It’s sort of a metaphor for life,” she said with a smile.
    Tom Hand, who has lived for the past 11 years in Gainesville, Fla., where his fellow firemen, he said, have been of great assistance to him as he’s confronted a rare form of cancer that has spread from the adrenal gland, said, when asked to recount his athletic career here, “I played with Montauk when it was fourth in the nation in 1998, and I played slow-pitch softball in East Hampton and modified-pitch in Sag Harbor with Sag Harbor Liquors, Billy Schmitz’s team. I’ve got a lot of friends here, and you know how it is when you’re at a funeral and everyone says, ‘We ought to get together sometime. . . .’ That’s why we’re having a social clambake and barbecue at Long Beach tomorrow evening. We want everyone to come from all the towns out here. People should get together. Why wait until something bad happens?”
    Later, after the East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue Squad, which had worked with Duncan Darrow’s Fighting Chance organization in Sag Harbor and with Swim Across America’s Don Regan and Gerry Oakley to bring the Hamptons Swim here three years ago, had been duly thanked, and after Arnie Paster had spoken, Hand, with his thumb raised, asked everyone not to forget to “live every day like it’s your last.”