Nearly 200 swimmers, ranging in age from 8 to 78, took the plunge into Oyster Bay Harbor Aug. 18 for the 18th Annual Swim-A-Cross at Centre Island Beach. The event is held each year to raise funds for the American Red Cross in Nassau County.
A local resident that took part in this years Swim-A-Cross was Alberto Rodrique of New Hyde Park.
"The Annual Red Cross Swim is one that I try never to miss. The Nassau County Chapter of the American Red Cross is such an essential organization to our community, and in the past few years, the organization has really started moving in a progressive direction. With the increase in communication and coordination amongst the Red Cross, the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management, and the towns and villages in our area, we are on the cutting edge of preparedness," said NC Legislator Diane Yatauro.
Presiding Office Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) said, "It was a spectacular day for family, friends and coworkers to have fun and get involved with the effort to raise funds for local disaster relief."
This year there were a few changes in the Swim-A-Cross: a little tweaking. The event has been held on a Friday, but this year they held it on a Saturday so that no one had to take time off from work. They also changed the route.
Originally the swimmers took off from the Centre Island beach in Bayville and headed to a dock in Centre Island itself. After a few years that was changed and swimmers were bused to Centre Island and swam to the beach in Bayville so that they could arrive to the cheers of their supporters.
Since the swim was being held on a Saturday this year, the Town of Oyster Bay said with the boat traffic on weekends, they couldn't close the whole harbor off for safety reasons, said Sam Kille, ARC NC director of public relations.
"We also added distances. We had a half, quarter mile and 200 yard swim for youth 8 to 12. There are a lot of people that can't swim a mile and want to participate. Still the majority of swimmers swam the mile. We signed up a total of 160 people this year. Four had signed up for the 200 yard swim but only two made it. They may have opted for a longer choice. Hopefully the choices will catch on and we will have even more people participate," said Mr. Kille.
He said the event can be daunting. "A lot of people think they can do a mile in a pool but in open water it's different. That day there was a stiff wind and current and some people had a struggle making the mile swim. But they all made it. There are always support staff from the Town of Oyster Bay and the Town of Hempstead helping.
"A few life guards had to say, 'move over. You're drifting off course', but everybody made it and it was a pretty good time," said Mr. Kille.
Though nearly $20,000 was raised, the Nassau Red Cross is hopeful that the funds, like the currents that challenged the swimmers today, will continue to flow in.
"We raised a similar figure last year at this point," said Frank Cassano, chief executive officer of the Nassau Red Cross. "Yet we actually give the swimmers a month to turn in their pledges. Last year we saw an additional $10,000 come in during the weeks after the event, and we are very confident that we can exceed the $30,000 we raised last year."
Raising the funds is critical for the non-profit agency. According to its Emergency Services Department, the Nassau Red Cross responded to 79 local disasters, at an expense of $100,000, during its 2007 Fiscal Year, which ended June 30. Not even two months into the 2008 Fiscal Year, the Red Cross has provided $22,000 in assistance since July 1.
"People know and expect the Red Cross to be on the scene, helping people during times of major disasters like hurricanes and floods," said Mr. Cassano. "Most don't realize though that there is a Red Cross chapter right here in Nassau County and that we respond to emergencies, on average, once every four days."
Those emergencies are often single-family home fires, at which time the Nassau Red Cross provides funds for food, clothing and temporary shelter to those affected at no cost.
In addition to raising funds, this year's event was geared toward family fun according to Craig Katinas, development director for the Nassau Red Cross.
"We don't want the Swim-A-Cross to be just another fundraising event in a world full of fundraising events," said Mr. Katinas. "We want to create an environment that encourages swimmers to bring their friends and family along to share in the day. Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors, each year is getting better and better."
Sponsors for this year included Allstate and the State Bank of Long Island which enabled the Red Cross to provide each swimmer with an event T-shirt. The New York Islanders were on hand with defenseman Bruno Gervais who greeted and posed for pictures with participants and spectators. The Islanders also provided their Slapshot Funzone. To help create a festive mood, BLI 106.1 played music throughout the event. Stop-N-Shop, Subway of Oyster Bay, and the Coca Cola Company provided food and bottled water. Baltic Linens and J.C. Penney's provided towels.
For more information about the American Red Cross in Nassau County and its efforts to make Nassau County a safer place to live, work and play, call 747-3500, or logon to www.nassauredcross.org. The Nassau Red Cross is located at 195 Willis Avenue in Mineola.