It was a dark and stormy night…uncertainty hung heavily in the air. Would the Save the Bay swim go on as planned the following morning? Lightning illuminated the house and thunder rattled the …
It was a dark and stormy night…uncertainty hung heavily in the air. Would the Save the Bay swim go on as planned the following morning? Lightning illuminated the house and thunder rattled the windows. An early morning storm on the horizon threatened to cancel the July 15th swim.
I woke at the crack of dawn, and with a slice of toast in hand, was on the road at 6:30AM, headed for the finish line. Presumably the swimmers were already gathered, waiting for the go-ahead as dark clouds loomed.
Frantic texts had come in on my phone beginning at 5:10 AM:
Event probably canceled.
Don’t leave yet.
Event is on!
At least for now.
From my perspective on the sand, the bay was still. Hopeful streaks of sunlight pierced the sky under a dark cloud, as silhouetted fishermen cast their lines from a craggy point. This was the spot where the 231 swimmers would first appear as they swam around the bend, after following the span of the Newport Bridge, from the Naval War College to Jamestown’s Potter’s Cove.
For friends Chris Withers, 64, and Dave Czerwonka, 60 next month, it was their first Save the Bay swim.
New to open-water swimming, Chris went heavy on the carbs for dinner the night before, with generous helpings of lasagna, sweet potato, and potato salad to prepare for the event.
His friend Dave, a former Massachusetts lifeguard who recently returned to open water swimming, reveled at the opportunity to swim the bay, temporarily closed to the ever-present boats.
John and Barbara Cullen plopped their chairs down next to me, to wait for a glimpse of their daughter, Rebecca Doran of Lincoln, RI.
This would be Rebecca’s 17th Save the Bay swim; her first in 1989 was as a high school junior. Her photograph on her dad’s t-shirt was taken that day, at this very place, 34 years ago. When Rebecca began swimming for Save the Bay, a kayaker or rowboat lookout was required for each participant, John explained.
Gina Raimondo, United States Secretary of Commerce, and former governor of Rhode Island, was there, kayaking for her husband, Andy Moffit, on his third Save the Bay swim.
Shouts rippled through the crowd when the first swimmers appeared in the distance. The first wave of participants were assigned grey swim caps, their arms slicing through the water. Those of us gathered on the beach erupted into spontaneous applause as the first swimmers reached the final stretch.
Some time later, a colorful regatta of kayakers escorting the second wave of swimmers made its way towards the shore.
When Chris finally had land under him, his first words were, “How did Beisel do?”
Elizabeth Beisel, Olympian, and Ambassador for Rhode Island for Save the Bay, had taken second place, to much applause. There would be time to visit with her at the after party. Of her Olympic swimming events, the “400 IM” (individual medley) and “200 back” (back stroke) she would explain modestly, “It was what I was good at,” adding with a grin, “It made me tough!” Tough enough to place second, as she graciously posed with first place swimmer, Stuart Cromarty.
Interim Executive Director of Save the Bay, Topher Hamblett, congratulated the swimmers as they emerged from the water and were adorned with their medals. A line of volunteers, waiting in waist-high water at the finish line, met the participants as they swam in.
The rip current around the point was overhead in the swimmers’ conversations, causing some to feel as if they were swimming in place for a time. But much of the talk was of congratulations, and renewing acquaintances from previous competitions.
It’s said it’s not a race, but a fundraiser. The swimmers strive for their best time in their category, or to reach a personal best. As an onlooker, watching from terra firma, rooting for these brave and fit men and women athletes on their near two-mile swim, it sure felt like a race, and a thrilling one!