When this year’s Swim Across America fundraiser at Jetties Beach was cancelled due to COVID-19, NHS graduate Tyler Roethke and summer resident Grant Wentworth weren’t ready to give up the swim, the fight, or get out of the fundraising pool (pun intended). So instead of letting an entire year go by without raising critical funds for on-island cancer care, the two accomplished swimmers decided to get back in the water in a big way. This weekend, when conditions are optimal, Tyler and Grant will attempt a 10k endurance swim from Cape Cod to Martha’s Vineyard, all in the name of raising money for SAA, Nantucket Cottage Hospital, and Palliative and Supportive Care of Nantucket (PASCON). Before they jump in to attempt their heroic swim, N Magazine sat down with both Tyler and Grant to learn more about their plans to make waves and fight cancer.
1. First of all, we have to say how incredibly inspired we are by this initiative – it is certainly no small feat and supports such an important cause. How did this idea come about?
GRANT: When Swim Across America Nantucket’s major in-person fundraising event was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, it left a looming nearly $500k funding deficit for NCH and PASCON’s oncology programs during a year of desperate need. We all have been brainstorming ideas on how to close this gap—and there have been many great efforts: the virtual Coast to Coast event, the Solo Run for Hope, as well as this concept of “personal challenges”. Tyler and I came up with this personal challenge of swimming the Vineyard Sound in the hope that it would resonate with folks and raise awareness.
TYLER: As a year-round competitive swimmer, coronavirus eliminated any meets for me this summer, and while I have been able to train it is tough to motivate without competition. This challenge was perfect. Grant and I were in the middle of an open water swim together when we first came up with the idea and due to the cancellation of the event, it was an instant yes for me to do this swim and raise money for this important cause.
2. Getting treated for cancer in the best of circumstances is scary, but in a pandemic, it can feel isolating and insurmountable. How is COVID-19 affecting cancer care both on-island and off, and what can people do to help?
TYLER: During the COVID-19 global pandemic, cancer care and palliative services on Nantucket have continued uninterrupted and in fact, capacity has increased to allow more patients to receive treatment in the safety of our community hospital rather than traveling off-island to mainland hospitals. We are very fortunate due to the success of our prior Swim Across America-Nantucket swims, that our patients can receive care at home in the Swim Across America Infusion Center at the brand-new Nantucket Cottage Hospital. In addition, with the Hospital’s partnership with Mass General, patients have been able to take advantage of telemedicine for some of their appointments with world class oncologists without having to leave their home.
GRANT: There are countless ways to get involved whether that be volunteering, donating, just spreading the word or coming up with your own personal challenge. And, please, please just wear a mask. It’s not about you, it’s about the most vulnerable in our community like those being treated at NCH.
3. Despite so many advances in medicine, cancer still seems to touch almost every person’s life in one way or another. How is this cause personal to each of you?
TYLER: Cancer doesn’t care who you are or what you do. I have watched cancer creep into so many lives of people around me including my father and both of my grandfathers. Though they have been lucky, many people have not. I swim for my friends, family, and community as we all battle this awful disease.
GRANT: Cancer is a disease that touches everyone. I have lost my grandmother, an uncle and an aunt to cancer. Beyond familial battles and loss, it is personal because I am passionate about this community and this island.
4. Grant, you’ve done a swim similar to this one before. [In 2015, Grant became the first person on-record to solo swim from Cape Cod to Nantucket, raising over $150,000 for SAA] What advice have you given Tyler about preparing for this kind of endurance swim?
GRANT: Tyler is a special athlete—eight time MA State Champion, High School All-American, and I look forward to following his continued success at Boston College. I’m not sure he needs my advice, and I hope I don’t slow him down too much once we splash this weekend. We have talked a bit about logistics and minor adjustments in the open water like feeding, sighting and rules of marathon swimming.
5. What does the training (both fitness and diet) look like for a swim like this?
TYLER: Swimming for me is a 50 week a year commitment compromised of double practices, dryland, and lifting. But once the pandemic hit, the pool closed and began the longest period in years I’ve had out of the pool. Luckily, the pool was able to open for limited practices this June and I was able to resume somewhat normal training. Recently, I have been substituting a couple of pool workouts a week for open water training along our beautiful North Shore.
GRANT: This has been an interesting training cycle for me. I had planned to do three marathon-distance open water swims this year, but the pandemic obviously changed all of that. Since early April, I have just been focused on building volume and intervals in the open water. It is a bit ironic since we are talking about swim training, but I haven’t been in the pool since February. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I’ve become quite comfortable in a backyard kiddie pool with my 14-month old, Charlotte.
6. We have to ask – are you nervous about sharks?
GRANT: For so many reasons, it has been amazing to watch the resurgence of the Atlantic white shark in this region over the last decade or so. I am hopeful we will see a study funded to better understand their behavior around the islands similar to what the Conservancy has been doing around Monomoy and the Outer Cape. When I think of our swim course however, I am much more concerned about and focused on the currents and recreational boat traffic.
TYLER: Being a regular surfer, I have grown to accept the presence of sharks, but moreover accepted that we are guests to their home in the ocean. We must respect their space as we would our own by taking care of our trash and pollution. Though they may be in the back of my head, there are risks we take every time we enter the ocean. To me, it is all about respect.
7. We hope that next year Swim Across America-Nantucket will return to Jetties Beach with more participants than ever, especially thanks to your inspiring swim. After crossing Vineyard Sound, do you have your sights set on a different location for another endurance swim in the future?
TYLER: Like this swim, you never know what inspiration you might find swimming along under a Nantucket sunrise. As for now, my sights are set on beginning my career as an Eagle at Boston College on their swim team. But in terms of open water, as long as Grant is by my side, I’d say any challenge is a possibility.
GRANT: This swim has come together on a very quick timetable, and I am certainly excited about greater challenges in the future. But for now, nothing would make me happier than being back under the big SAA tent at Jetties Beach next year with the pandemic in the rearview.
Support Swim Across America, PASCON, and cancer care at NCH by donating to Tyler and Grant’s swims. To donate to Grant’s fundraising page, click here. To donate to Tyler’s fundraising page, click here.