The First Swims of the Season at Havens Beach

‘Some swimmers come out as if baptized’
Michael Petrzela was again first out of the water in Fighting Chance’s longest swim, a 2-miler this time. Craig Macnaughton

Fighting Chance, a free service for cancer patients and their families, was on its own this year, following what was described as an amicable parting with Swim Across America, and despite the fact that the site had to be changed from Long Beach to Havens Beach at the last minute, all went well, the weather being beautiful and the swimming conditions being pretty much perfect.

As was the case last year, Mike Petrzela, a 42-year-old New Yorker who swam the butterfly for Syracuse University, was first out of the water from the 2-mile swim. “I miss David Powers,” he said, “though he’ll be at Montauk” on July 22.

Maggie Purcell, who still has a year to go in high school — as do some of her fellow East Hampton Hurricane swimmers, Madison Jones, Isabela Swanson, and Caroline Oakland, all of whom were there Saturday, as was Cecilia De Havenon, who’s to matriculate at Bowdoin in the fall — was first out in the 1-miler, and a 12-year-old, William Siudzinski, who lives in Brooklyn, was the first in among the half-milers.

“Don’t forget to say that Sag Harbor’s police chief, A.J. McGuire, put this together in the last 24 hours, and that the village board was very cooperative,” said Jim Arnold, an East Hampton Village Ocean Rescue Squad member who oversaw the benefit swims, which, before a permit question surfaced, were to be held at Long Beach in Noyac.

Duncan Darrow, the founder of Fighting Chance, stationed himself at Long Beach with a sign and map redirecting spectators, “bewildered grandparents, for the most part, who had been told they had better go see their grandchildren swim,” to Sag Harbor’s Havens Beach a couple of miles away.

Griffin Taylor, a Boston College sophomore who had “won” (the long-distance swims are not billed as races) the 1-miler at Amagansett’s Fresh Pond last year, was a spectator this time, preferring, he said, to watch his sister, Sophia, swim. He, too, he said, will do the Montauk swims, which are to raise money for the Montauk Playhouse pool. He swims the 200, 500, and 1,000 freestyle races at B.C., though his mother, Mary, said that there were academic requirements to take into account too.

Having finished fourth among the 2-milers, Sophia said in reply to a question that she’s swimming at the University of Hawaii now, where she does the 500 freestyle, the 400 individual medley, and the 200 backstroke.

The above-named women, in addition to Paige Duca, an all-Atlantic Coast Conference runner at B.C., and others, are expected to do the Hampton Lifeguard Association proud in regional and national competitions this summer.

The all-women’s national tournament is to be held at Sandy Hook, N.J., on July 26. Other competitive events coming are the East Hampton Village invitational tourney at East Hampton’s Main Beach next Thursday, the aforementioned ocean swims for the Playhouse on July 22, the county lifeguard tournament at Smith Point on July 31, and the national junior and senior lifeguard tournaments at Daytona Beach, Fla., from Aug. 9 through 12.

As for Fighting Chance, Darrow said he thought Swim Across America, though it had severed ties with Fighting Chance swimming-wise, would continue to donate to his organization. “There were no hard feelings,” he said of the parting. “We were a fish out of water, as it were. Most of Swim Across America’s money goes to cancer research at hospitals such as Memorial Sloan Kettering and M.D. Anderson, and Fighting Chance is not research-oriented. They encouraged us to go local.”

He estimated that Saturday’s swims would net the cancer services effort about $20,000, less than it had netted from the annual Swim Across America events in Amagansett, but a good start, he said.

Moreover, Darrow said, “we’ve got lots of events this summer, one on July 15 at a beautiful house in Dering Harbor [on Shelter Island] for 125 people who are being asked to donate only $75, as was the case with the swimmers today, and a wine bus on Aug. 19 for $125 a head. The Jitney has given us a bus. We’ll go by ferry from Sag Harbor to three vineyards on the North Fork and taste 20 wines. Roman Roth [of the Wolffer Estate Vineyard] will be on the trip and will tell us all about them.”

As for that day’s swimmers, “Many of them, you know, are doing it for someone in their family who has died of cancer or who has cancer, and there are cancer patients themselves who have just gotten through chemotherapy and are wondering how they can rebuild their lives. They’re saying to themselves, ‘I’m going to swim that half-mile if it’s the last thing I do.’ And they come out as if they’ve been baptized! They’ve been through fire and water.”

Sophia Taylor and Paige Duca are two reasons why John Ryan Sr. has such confidence in East Hampton’s women’s lifeguard team. Jack Graves