MAHOPAC, N.Y. - The family that swims together, gives together. That could be the Wilson family motto.
On Sunday, Aug. 16, members of the Wilson clan—Steve, 53, his wife, Meg, and their sons, Ryan, 22, and Garrett, 21—swam as much as 6.2 miles on Lake Mahopac to raise money for several worthy causes and to commemorate the six-month anniversary of Steve’s kidney donation. (Daughter Meredith is away at college and couldn’t participate.)
The Wilsons are from Somers (Ryan and Garrett are Kennedy Catholic grads) but have been swimming in Lake Mahopac for years.
But Sunday’s swim was special. It included not only most of the Wilson family, but friends and supporters as well, all helping to raise money and awareness for organ donation.
Steve Wilson said he had been thinking of donating a kidney for quite some time and last February, he finally did it.
“I knew some people who have done it,” he said. “Then, a year ago I saw a post from a friend and former baseball teammate from high school, and he was excited that his daughter had received a new kidney. I got choked up. I mean, could you provide a better gift? If I had $50 million, I could change the world, but I don’t, so you can really help someone by giving a body part. I don’t know in particular who needs one, but I know that someone does. Having two is having one too many.”
Wilson said that while the procedure is considered major surgery, it is not as bad as one might think.
“I am no stranger to surgery,” he laughed. “I’ve had 14 prior surgeries. I have two fake knees, two fake discs in my neck.”
For the kidney donation, Wilson said, doctors made a small incision near his belly button and then “sucked out the kidney.”
“I don’t want to make light of it; it’s a three-hour surgery,” he said. “They took it out and put it in a box and flew it to Seattle. I spent one night in the hospital and was back working from home in four days. Within a month, I was 100 percent healed.”
Then Wilson and his son Ryan took part in an Ironman competition last November, which included a 2.4-mile swim. It was there that the idea for last Sunday’s swim was born.
“We enjoyed hanging out together and Ryan said, ‘Let’s commemorate your kidney donation. I’ll swim six miles to mark the six months,’” Wilson recalled.
Actually, Ryan swam 6.2 miles (10K), but Wilson said that was a little too much for him, so he opted for a 5k (3.1 miles). His wife and son Garrett each swam a half-mile.
In addition to commemorating what Wilson has dubbed his six-month “kidneyversary,” the event replaced a different one, postponed due to COVID-19, in which Wilson and Ryan had been scheduled to take part.
“We were scheduled to participate in an endurance swimming event called ‘Swim to the Moon’ in Michigan on Aug. 16, but as we feared, the event was postponed,” Wilson said.
Ryan Wilson, a fitness trainer, is in the process of building a fitness brand name, his dad said. The brand—Rywilsonfitness—is an adventure/nutrition-based entity.
“Ryan did Ironman; he climbed Kilimanjaro and plans to climb Mount Everest,” his dad said. “He’s a fitness trainer; he’s changing lives.”
Wilson said it hasn’t been easy for his son to get to where he is today.
“He struggled with a lot of things right through college,” Wilson said. “Depression, anxiety, confidence. But with his love of fitness, he has done a 100 percent turnaround.”
Wilson said that since Ryan likes to do “these extreme things,” they would use that to raise awareness for organ donation.
“How great life is when I get up every morning and get to go swimming in Mahopac lake with my son?” Wilson marveled.
Ryan’s employer, Super Coffee, sponsored Sunday’s swim, but more money was raised beyond that.
“People have been amazing,” Wilson sad. “We did a Facebook post saying what we were doing—raising money for a group called Kidney Donor Athletes—and raised $8,000 through donations.”
Kidney Donor Athletes is a registered 501c3 organization whose mission is “to promote the gift of life through living kidney donation among active individuals and athletes by building a community that inspires, supports and educates people about the experience of kidney donation.”
Wilson also pledged that he would match those donations up to $5,000 for Feeding Westchester (formerly the Westchester Food Bank).
“I’m affiliated with Guardian Life Insurance, and they will match my donation; and my best friend will donate half my donation,” Wilson said. “So, we’ve raised $12,500 for Feed Westchester.”
Helping out with Sunday’s swim at Lake Mahopac was Ryan’s high school classmate, Alexa Kleinschmidt. Wilson said the two barely knew each other in high school but reconnected via social media. Kleinschmidt is now a Rhodes Scholar and an accomplished swimmer and has acted as the Wilsons’ trainer and instructor.
“I want to stress how grateful I am for the donations we’ve received,” Wilson said. “I know times are hard right now, but the level of participation was just fantastic. I really did not expect this.”
To learn more about the Wilsons’ charities, or to donate, go to www.kidneydonorathlete.org or www.feedingwestchester.org.