Making Waves in Fight vs. Cancer

A large turnout for the Gardiner’s Bay swims
It was the fourth year here for Swim Across America. Jack Graves

   Saturday’s Swim Across America event at Fresh Pond in Amagansett raised about $100,000 for cancer research, Gerry Oakes, chairman of the organization’s volunteer Nassau-Suffolk committee, said afterward.
    The large turnout for the Gardiner’s Bay swims — a 5K, a one-miler, and a half-miler — included many members of the Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter youth swim team, the Hurricanes, members of East Hampton High School’s girls and boys swim teams, and two Olympians, Craig Beardsley (1980) and Brenda Borgh Bartlett (1976).
    Beardsley, a former world and U.S. record-holder in the 200-meter butterfly, was heavily favored to win that event in the 1980 Olympics, though politics intervened, and the U.S. team was prevented by the Carter administration from participating as part of a protest of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghani­stan.
    Bartlett, who swam that day, placed sixth in the 400-meter freestyle at the Montreal Olympics.
    “We were held hostage by politics that year,” said the amiable Beardsley, who watched from the shore Saturday. “It was too bad because sports are a great way to bring down barriers. I’m way over my anger now, though — it is what it is.”
    On Friday, Beardsley and Bartlett gave a clinic for children at the Y. “I’ve been working with Swim Across America since 1987, he said. “Seven of us raised $6,000 that first year with an event in Long Island Sound. It was different then. There would be one swimmer in the water and the rest of us would be in a spotter boat, which sank, by the way, in 80 feet of water.”
    “We’ve come a long way. Swim Across America has raised $6 million to fight cancer this year, and we have events all over . . . in San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, Clearwater, Boston. . . . And owing to research we’ve helped to underwrite people with cancer are surviving.”
    Of the 10 or so fund-raising teams, whose banners were displayed at the edge of the beach, Team Fighting Chance, at $9,900, raised the most, with Team Michael (a team named in memory of the late Michael Bromley) the runner-up at $6,795.
    Team Michael’s star swimmer, Maddie Minetree, a record-holder in the 400 and 800-meter freestyle relays at Rollins College, was sidelined, however, because of a broken ankle.
    Questioned as to the cause, her mother, Jackie, said, “Very high heels.”
    East Hampton’s Volunteer Ocean Rescue Squad, which holds practices open to all at Indian Wells Beach in Amagansett on Mondays and Wednesdays at 6 p.m., was out in force. One of its 77 members, John McGeehan, who oversees Montauk’s beaches, said the toxic Portuguese men-of-war seemed to have left, “either for Nantucket or the South.”
    The beach at Ditch Plain, he added, upon which some 300 truckloads of sand had been dumped recently, and which, he said, “had already been coming back on its own,” was “pretty healthy now — it’s been absolutely packed.”
    As for the East Hampton High School girls swim team, which he coaches, McGeehan said, “I think we should be in good shape. Some of them are here today . . . Shannon Ryan, Morgan German, Lilah Minetree. . . .”
    Back to Beardsley, he said that “swimmers train smarter nowadays. They rest at times. When I swam competitively you went hard for as long as you could. Also, years ago, it was hard to avail yourself of good coaching. Now, all you have to do if you’re interested in technique is go on YouTube.”
    And, as Dr. Jedd Wolchuk, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, told the participants afterward, progress is being made in fighting cancer, melanoma in particular.
    A recent Swim Across America lab study using two Bristol-Myers Squibb immunotherapy drugs to attack mela­noma cancer cells, he said, had yielded encouraging results, leading him to think that at the optimal dose the combination might result in a 65-percent response rate in melanoma patients, and that similar efforts in harnessing the body’s immune system to kill cancer cells could be effective in treating other forms of cancer as well.
    The swims that day, Beardsley said, weren’t about winning, but about the cause and “giving back. We don’t call them races. . . . There is a bond among swimmers, whether you’re an Olympian or a beginner. We all have that connection to the water. Today is about our love for the water and our wanting to make a difference.”