Swim Across America: A Day of Tears, Salt, and Joy

"It’s about swimming together for a great cause.”
Lilah Minetree, Carly Drew, and Amanda Calabrese swam the one-miler with Zach Bogetti, whose father, Jeff, died of brain cancer on May 30. Craig Macnaughton

About 100 swimmers of all ages participated Saturday morning in a Swim Across America event in Gardiner’s Bay that raised an estimated $65,000 for cancer research and for Fighting Chance, “the best provider of services to cancer patients on the planet,” in the words of Gerry Oakes, chairman of Swim Across America’s volunteer Nassau-Suffolk committee.

“It wasn’t a race,” Oakes later said, “though people can if they want to. It’s about swimming together for a great cause.”

Based at Amagansett’s Fresh Pond, the participants could choose to swim either a half-mile, a mile, or a 5K. The water was calm, though cold, the swimmers said. There were no jellyfish, though sea lice pestered those without wetsuits.

Griffin Taylor, a 16-year-old who’s a junior at the Grace Church School in New York City and swims with the Imagine Makos team there, and his twin sister, Sophia, were first out of the water in the mile, as they were last year. Rod McClave, an international triathlete and swim coach, a part-time resident of Water Mill, was the first 5K finisher, as has been the case since this event began in 2010.

McClave said he was very much looking forward to the coming Montauk Ocean Swim Challenge, a benefit for the Montauk Playhouse’s planned aquatic center that is to be swum between Kirk Park and Ditch Plain in Montauk on Saturday, July 26.

It is hoped that the Montauk ocean event, which includes one-half, one-mile, and (for the first time) 5K distances, will become part of the national open-water swim circuit, said Peter Gidion, a member of the Volunteer East Hampton Ocean Rescue squad, which oversees it.
Oakes told the large gathering, which included about two-dozen members of the Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter’s youth swim team, the Hurricanes, and seven teams named for those who have been stricken by cancer or for those who have recently died of it, that he was sure a cure for cancer was on the horizon.

“Research labs, such as the ones we fund, and others, are making progress all the time,” Oakes said later in the week. “Every swim event we hold, and we hold them all over the country, brings us a step closer to a cure.”

Fighting Chance, whose Sag Harbor office offers counseling and services to cancer patients and their families for free, was Saturday’s chief beneficiary.

“We’ve been providing Fighting Chance with funds since February of 2008, before we began this event,” Oakes said. “They’re doing wonderful work.”

Two local families who availed themselves of Fighting Chance’s services recently, and who turned out in force on Saturday, were the Andersons and Bogettis.

Karin Anderson died of cancer on April 28 at the age of 45, leaving her husband, Robert (Ticky) Anderson, and their children, Robert III and Katelyn. Jeff Bogetti, 46, died of the disease on May 30, leaving his wife, Stephanie, and their children, Zachary and Georgica.

The many members of the Volunteer Ocean Rescue Squad who were to ensure the safety of the swimmers wore yellow long-sleeved rashguard shirts in memory of their former squad mate. They said “God Bless Jeff,” along with the dates, 1967-2014. His obituary appears in The Star this week, along with a story that recounts how three dozen of his friends here came to make his casket of driftwood and beach glass.

“He was a great guy — he and his wife were always together, with each other and their kids,” said John Ryan Sr., the founder of East Hampton’s lifeguarding programs. “We’ll wear these shirts at every Swim Across America event from now on.”

A celebration of Mr. Bogetti’s life, a Main Beach-style potluck barbecue with auctions and raffles and music by Nancy Atlas and the band Hopefully Forgiven, will be held next Thursday at Groundworks, 530 Montauk Highway, East Hampton, beginning at 6 p.m.

Duncan Darrow, the founder of Fighting Chance, swam that day despite a broken rib. “I said to myself, ‘Our group’s the main beneficiary — I gotta do it,’ ” he said on emerging from the water.

“I call this day ‘tears and saltwater,’ ” he continued. “Some are crying because of grief, as I did the whole way last year, a month after my brother died. Some are crying because they’re in treatment but determined to do something, not to give up, and another group, people who are in remission, people who have cancer in the rearview mirror, are crying for joy.”

It was the first time she’d participated in such a swim, said Margaret Zuccotti, a mother of three who did the one-miler. “I’m a stage-four breast cancer survivor and proud to be here,” she said with a smile, “though I’m a little weak in the knees. . . . What a beautiful spot this is!”

Georgie Bogetti, at left, a strong long-distance swimmer and surfer — following in her late father’s footsteps in that regard — did the 5K. Craig Macnaughton
Marina Preiss, who will join San Diego State’s women’s swim team soon, and who starred in the 50 and 100-yard freestyle races at East Hampton High School, thinks her college coach may be thinking of her as a long-distance competitor. Jack Graves