Giving Back

Swimmers Raise Funds for Cancer Research Lap by Lap in North Salem

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Swim Across America’s Long Island Sound Chapter President Tony Sibio and Lakeside Field Club's SAA committee members Deirdre Coughlin, chairperson; Mary Cate Devey; Bethann McGrath and Lulu Pelosi. Credits: Gabrielle Bilik
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Mirabelle Northshield, 8, was joined in the pool by both of her grandfathers, Peter Page, left, and Charlie Northshield, right. Credits: Gabrielle Bilik
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Volunteers from the Ridgefield Chapter of Lion's Heart service group helped out at the poolside swim. Credits: Gabrielle Bilik
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Patrick Coughlin, 16, and Charlotte Coughlin, 19 Credits: Gabrielle Bilik
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Cassie Pelosi, 10, was the third biggest fundraiser of this year's event and swam about 155 laps. Credits: Gabrielle Bilik
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NORTH SALEM, N.Y.--About 40 swimmers dove into the Lakeside Field Club’s pool Sunday, July 23, under an occasional drizzle and cloudy skies for the club’s seventh annual “Swim Across America,” an event that raises money for cancer research and patient support.

Prior to the event, where swimmers young and old aim to complete half-mile or mile-long swims, participants raise money individually or as teams. Volunteers who join as part of the Lakeside Swim and Dive Team raise a minimum of $250, while individual volunteers raise $500 or more. Proceeds go to research centers and hospitals such as the Swim Across America Laboratory at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and the Cancer Support Team of Westchester.

Ten-year-old Cassie Pelosi, a member of the Lakeside swim team and soon-to-be North Salem Middle/High School student, raised $1,000 this year, putting her among the top three highest earners for the swim. This year, she intended to swim at least 150 laps, which she did. As of 6:15 p.m., a little over an hour into the three-hour event, she had completed 100.

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Cassie was not the only young swimmer to make big strides on behalf of the team. With $1,140 raised to date, former North Salem resident Sophia Bucaj, 10, was the top fundraiser. Bucaj participated in the swim remotely from Georgia.The second biggest fundraiser with $1,015, was Mary Kate Devey, a longtime committee member, said Pelosi’s mother Lulu, who is one of seven committee members who organize the event.

Pelosi said that is part of the beauty of the event is that funds can continue to be raised afterward and people can participate from miles away. Additionally, she pointed out that of the top three highest fundraisers, two were under 18 years old. The two 10-year-old girls have been swimming since they were 6 and swam a combined 310 laps — more than 4 miles.

“It is such a great event for families and children,” she said. “For a few hours, everyone swims their hearts out in honor of relatives and friends who have cancer, and unfortunately people in both North Salem and Ridgefield communities have been touched by cancer. It’s a great way to get children involved and allow them to contribute something positive, in this case funds for cancer research and clinical trials. There were kids and adults of all ages in the pool swimming anywhere from a half-mile to two-miles plus.”

Deirdre Coughlin, a fellow committee member, added that because cancer has affected the lives of so many families in the area, young swimmers are eager to get involved.

“The kids, I think, really know what they’re swimming for,” she said.

For some North Salem residents, the event is a family affair. Alexis Elias has participated with her family every year in North Salem’s pool swim. This year, she and her husband Sherif participated along with their daughter Zoe, 9, and son Caleb, 12. Their oldest son, Noah, 14, was away on a trip this year. Elias said he has participated in most previous swims.

“It’s a really inspiring event,” she said. “I love coming every year and being a part of it. It feels like you’re making a difference; there is a lot of positive energy.”

Elias said it isn’t only the event that makes Swim Across America worthwhile. She and other organizers said that learning how the fundraiser’s proceeds are put to use inspires them to continue their efforts.

Each year there is a party to kick off the season, Elias explained. She once met one of the doctors who works at the Swim Across America Laboratory at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, who shared the story of a little girl who had a grave diagnosis. After receiving a trial treatment, however, she survived.

“It’s amazing to hear their stories,” Elias said. “You feel like you’re making a difference. If you can change even one life, it’s worth it.”

This year’s swim was not only the club’s seventh year participating, but the organization’s 30th anniversary as well. Organizers from several local Swim Across America chapters came out to cheer on the North Salem swimmers.

For Dan Levy, Chappaqua swim and tennis coach, it was his third swim of the weekend and seventh swim of the month. He is not the only resident of Northern Westchester to double dip and participate in several swims, however, proving that the desire to beat cancer is as far-reaching as cancer itself.

“The more you get involved, the more people you meet affected by cancer,” Levy said. 

Levy got involved eight years ago after his sister was diagnosed. He and a friend started a Chappaqua swim, which celebrated its sixth anniversary the same day. Although he was tired from participating in two swims on the same day, it didn’t stop him.

“Every lap I do I think, ‘OK, every lap that I do is helping me raise more money to hopefully eventually put an end to this disease,’ ” he said.

Swim Across America’s Long Island Sound Chapter president Tony Sibio came out to support North Salem as well, and said the Long Island Sound chapter celebrated 25 years since the initial swim on the Sound in 1992.

He described the sense of community among the growing number of swimmers who participate each year as “phenomenal.”

“This pool here,” he said of the Lakeside Field Club, “pretty much the whole club participates; it’s great. You’ve got 4-year-olds and you’ve got 80-year-olds and that’s the great thing about our organization…We’ll keep doing it until we’ve got a 100 percent cure rate.”

In total, the Lakeside Field Club’s teams have raised $8,779 to date — just shy of the $9,000 goal. To donate or learn more about the event, visit swimacrossamerica.org.

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