What started in 1987 as a relay swim from Nantucket to Hyannis has grown into a nationwide organization that is making serious waves toward fighting cancer. Thirty years later, Swim Across America returns to Nantucket for the 6th annual Open Water Swim at Jetties Beach, bringing together family and friends to support on-island oncology care.
Co-directors Jill Roethke and Jim Pignato are responsible for bringing Swim Across America back to Nantucket as an annual event to benefit on-island treatment and patient care through the Nantucket Cottage Hospital and Palliative & Supportive Care of Nantucket. Since 2013, the event has raised over $1.4 million to fund more than 2,000 cancer treatments that alternatively would have to have been performed off-island.
For Tim Farley, the Saturday morning swim is his favorite day of summer. After losing his mother to cancer three years ago, Farley got involved in the event as a way to support cancer treatment and help others on island. With thanks to Roethke, Pignato, and swimmers like Farley, Swim Across America has become much more than any swim or fundraiser alone; it’s become a community.
N MAGAZINE: How has the swim grown in recent years?
ROETHKE & PIGNATO: The swim has grown since 2012 in terms of swimmer numbers and dollars raised. Over the years, we have added a Kids Splash for our youngest swimmers, a 4-mile swim for our brave and seasoned swimmers and new this year, a ¼-mile swim for some of our newer swimmers. We have also witnessed our extended Swim Across America family embrace the Swim with many grass roots fundraising efforts – lemonade stands, yard sales, trunk shows, art auctions to name a few. Also, this year we have an Olympian at our Swim, Samantha Arsenault Livingstone, welcoming our participants and serving as an angel swimmer for us.
N MAGAZINE: How do you find Nantucket to be a supportive community in terms of SAA and participation over the last few years?
ROETHKE & PIGNATO: It is truly a community-wide event. Some of the other Swim Across America events in other parts of the country have a lot of large corporate sponsorship bringing in a bulk of the fundraising dollars. Our swim is a great mix of local business sponsors who cover the cost of the event, allowing every swimmer and volunteer donation to go one hundred percent to local cancer care. We like to say that no donation is too small and it all adds up.
FARLEY: On the day of the event, you truly realize that we are a small community and that we have to stick together when comes to something like cancer. The day of the event brings us together and gives us confidence that we can beat this disease or at least gives each of us the sense that we are not alone in this fight.
N MAGAZINE: What would you say to someone who has never participated in a SAA swim before?
FARLEY: I would tell them not to be intimidated by the swim. It is noncompetitive and you really can take what you want from it. For me, I like the challenge of swimming a mile. When it gets hard I think about my mom and she keeps me going. I think there is a way for everyone to benefit from participating in this event. Whether swimming, volunteering or just being there, you will walk away with a smile and a feeling of hope that you can’t generate without an event like this.
ROETHKE & PIGNATO: We like to say “Swim Easy, Fight Hard”. Swimming is the easy part, having cancer is the hard part. We ask our swimmers to reflect on why they are swimming during their swim and think of their loved ones who have died from cancer, survived, or in the process of treatment. It is a very uplifting, inspirational and heartfelt morning bringing the community together – locals and visitors. It is an experience unlike any other on-island!
N MAGAZINE: How has SAA impacted your life?
FARLEY: Swim Across America has allowed me to take something negative if my life and turn it into something positive. Each year it is very uplifting as friends and family support our team, Swimming for Moms. The swim has become my favorite day of the summer. The event has a full spectrum of emotions, but in the end it feels really good to do something positive with other members of this community. Also, it has become a day where I can connect with my mom in a unique way and pay tribute to her life.
N MAGAZINE: Where do you see SAA moving forward?
ROETHKE & PIGNATO: We hope to continue to grow the swim each year and to eventually fully-fund the NCH oncology program as well as providing important support to PASCON.
FARLEY: I want the swim to break fundraising records, but I also really like the feel of it being our community event. I would like to see the swim continue to grow to the extent that it fits the character of our island. On the day of the event, it feels like we are a family out there.
To support the swim and the fight against cancer, join Roethke, Pignato, and Farley this Saturday morning at 8 A.M. at Jetties Beach. For donations and information, click here.