Dawn came early for the Hamilton group of swimmers and crew traveling with Michael Hall. . . in fact it was still night! Michael had told one of the participants at the McMaster University Sports Camp last year that he would try to swim in the 4th Annual Swim for the Cure with that camper’s aunt. The camper was Brock Bilous, I am his aunt, and Brock was confident that Michael would swim. So Michael, 23, Louis Zavodni, 25, and Laura Hendrie, 21, and their crew of friends, uncle and dad were up at 2:30 a.m. to travel to Severn Falls to swim. . . and swim they did!Louis set a record completing the eight-mile/12.8-km swim in 3 hours, 37 minutes with Laura three minutes behind. Michael was finished in 4.5 hours, another amazing swim. All three play water polo for McMaster, Louis at a national level. Michael has been a counsellor at the McMaster University Sports Camp and instills the joy of physical activity in his young campers. He swam for his aunt Anna in Hamilton who has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and because he made that commitment to Brock Bilous almost a year ago. Louis and Laura came along in support of Michael and his aunt and Laura invited three other swimmers to participate.
It turned out to be a perfect day for swimming though our first swimmers left in the mist and were soon out of sight. This year the water was 76°F and the air 22°C. There was very little wind and for some of the swimmers very little boat traffic. Twenty-one people participated this year, 17 of which were first-time swimmers. There were two relay teams; the first included Steve andDenise Fletcher, her dad Walter Raffler, and Mark Bang, 16. They completed the swim in 6 hours, 30 minutes and Debbie had the pleasure to finish the last quarter-kilometre of her swim alongside son Mark. Walter was our oldest swimmer at 67 years, completing 7 kms and vowing to come back in 2005 and swim the full distance.Steve Fletcher and wife Denise are parents of two children and have never done an open water swim before. Steve said that “It’s a great cause, I’m excited to be a part of it and curious how far I will get. You never know until you try!” Both he and Denise have been increasing their fitness levels after Steve’s recent shoulder surgery. Denise’s dad Walter is an avid swimmer and when asked to come and canoe with the team his condition was that he also got to swim. This is Mark Bang’s third open water swim. He has swum and paddled in the last two events as part of relay teams. Mark keeps fit by playing basketball and running. He swam very strongly, completing his furthest distance to date at 6.8 kms. Mark, like his brother Eric and me, swims with a picture in his heart of Aunt Teri’s courage and will to live as she has successfully battled both breast and metastatic bone cancer, and for their great-Nana.
The second relay team included Kim Davies, Julie Bennett and Taryn Kentner, three fabulous synchronized swimmers from McMaster, accompanied by Julie’s mom. Each woman swam 8 kms, swimming two at a time, side by side. Their laughter and chatting echoed off the water and could be heard by the other swimmers throughout the swim. They completed the swim in 4 hours, 25 minutes. Kim is a fourth year biology student at McMaster University where she was also on the water polo team. She said that she was doing this swim for her aunt who had breast cancer, and also as a personal challenge. “I am involved and very passionate about medical research in all fields,” she said. “This summer I’m working in a medical research lab supported by the heart and stroke foundation and I’ve helped organize fundraisers for diabetes. This is a start to, hopefully, a large personal contribution to help find a cure for cancer.”Taryn Kentner for many years has participated in the “Run For The Cure” with her family in support of all who have battled breast cancer. In 2004, breast cancer hit very close to home: “My Aunt was diagnosed with Stage Two breast cancer about a month ago and underwent almost immediate surgery to remove two tumors and five lymph nodes. About a week later she had a mastectomy, and will be starting chemo and radiation very soon. I felt that I needed to do something that would help my Aunt, so when I heard about this swim it was the perfect opportunity. I am a synchronized swimmer so Swim For The Cure seemed like the ideal event for me. July 24 is the day that I will swim to raise money for cancer research that might help my Aunt and all those others affected by breast cancer”. Julie Bennett has never actually known anyone who has had breast cancer. But from family experiences, she knows that cancer in any form is really tough to deal with for everyone personally involved. She said that “we should do anything that we can to help the fight against this disease, and that’s why I’m swimming.”
Linda Valenta and her sister Kim each completed the full distance accompanied by their dad and Pat Hall, Michael’s dad. Linda heard about the swim from my brother and support-paddler Jamie Myles. Linda recalled that “2004 marked the completion of my first Swim For the Cure with my sister Kim. Dad paddled beside me and a kind stranger (aka Pat) helped my sister navigate the waters. Mom kept watch on the runner boat. We couldn’t have asked for better weather or company.” Kim is a 24-year-old wildlife rehabilitator who lives in Toronto and is beginning graduate work in primatology. While she has spent a great deal of time in the water, this was her first long distance outdoor swim. Kim said that she was swimming “to be part of celebrating the bravery and endurance of the women who fight this disease every day.”
Melissa Mingram found out about the swim from one of the newspaper articles last year and had an outstanding first time swim, completing the full distance in 5 hours, 18 minutes. Melissa’s mom, Noreen Neilson, aged 70, spent the last year battling uterine and ovarian cancer. She has survived it, and was the inspiration behind Melissa’s commitment to the swim. It was also a great personal challenge for Melissa since she spends so much of her time in the water at the cottage and is a certified lifeguard and aquatics instructor. She would like to thank her crew, husband Bill and niece Kelly for their amazing support. “It was an awesome day and one I will cherish. And to have my mom there at the end was more valuable than words can say.”
Inspiration in courage
Karen Gregory and Bonnie Moore have cottages on the river and have watched swimmers go by in the past swims. Karen contacted me the day after the Severn River newsletter came out and she and Bonnie began serious training. This year they started at Severn Falls, completing 7.8 kms with their husbands in the canoe beside them. Both had an excellent experience and are planning on going the distance in 2005. Karen is a 39-year-old mother of two wonderful boys. She met her husband on the Severn, when her parents bought a cottage in Coulters Bay. Her husband has been on the Severn River for 41 years. Karen says “when I swim the Severn, I swim for the hope that one day, cures will be found for this debilitating disease.”Bonnie has a cottage two doors down from Karen, and spends summers there with her husband and two teenage sons. She is 44 years old, and works as a speech-language pathologist with adults who have suffered a stroke or head injury. “I could not have completed the swim without the support of my husband and sons, who frequently accompany me in the kayak on all my training swims.” It was definitely a family effort. “It was such an incredible event to be a part of.” Bonnie dedicated her swim to Sophie who is currently fighting breast cancer with determination and courage. “Sophie’s strength was my inspiration every stroke of the way. I look forward to completing the 12.8 km next year with Karen.”
Remembering a friend
Marilyn Korzekwa was our last swimmer into the water as she is an accomplished marathon swimmer, coach and official. She swam Lake Ontario south to north in 1983 and north to south in 1984. Marilyn was looking forward to helping me — her co-worker at St. Joseph’s Hospital — and encouraging all the others who were swimming. “It’s a great cause”, she said. On the swim, Marilyn remembered her dear friend Tom who died of malignant melanoma in 2004. During her swim Marilyn spent time with Marci and Adam, encouraging them along, and still completed the full distance in 4 hours, 29 minutes.
Jennie Popplow is one of the original swimmers and had planned to complete 10 kms this year. She and I agreed during our pre-swim-day get-used-to-the-water / work-the-muscles swim on Friday afternoon that if she made 10 kms, she was going to finish. I caught up to Jennie just before the 10 km marker and she was feeling sick but still confident and planning to go the distance. Her dad Don Popplow has captured the joy of her first finish (see pictures); her brotherAdam Popplow, 15, finished about 15 minutes behind her. Adam is a graduate of the children’s swim and his 6-foot 4-inch frame generated a powerful breaststroke for the full distance. Jennie completed the distance in 6 hours 27 minutes, encouraged along the way by Aunt Gail and her mom Laura; Adam by Jim Shaw, and we all celebrated Jennie’s 21st birthday that evening at dinner.
Marci Katz spontaneously decided to enter the swim three weeks before it took place and swam with her heart for her mom Nancy who lost her battle with breast cancer not long after the swim. Marci’s sisters Amy and Becky and dad Howard supported her with everything from sunscreen and Vaseline applications to the towel at the end. Marci was our most animated swimmer, chatting away to her crew, the runner boats and other swimmers. She struggled around the 8 km mark, close to her cottage and an encouraging view of her mom. Marci accomplished so much during the swim, her tenacity and determination forefront the whole way, her smile in place, delivering more than $2,000 in pledges. A huge entourage swam in with her for the last quarter-kilometre, one not intentionally. He found himself tipped out of the canoe while putting a young supporter into the water!
Another amazing year
Eric Bang had another amazing year, completing the full distance and shaving over an hour off his past year’s time. Dad Steve who kayaked beside him reported that Eric swam strongly for the full distance and completed the swim this year in 4 hours, 59 minutes.It was a great day for me as well, getting to swim with Marci, Adam and Jennie, finishing with my son Mark and finishing in less than five hours. I was one of several swimmers who re-entered the water to swim in with Jennie, Adam and Marci, supporting them for the last quarter-kilometre.Together, all swimmers raised more than $13,000 in 2004 bringing our grand total to more than $37,000 over the past four years.
Support makes it all possible
The swim is not possible without the support of our family and friends. The crew outnumber the swimmers by 3 to 1 and have just the right words and just the right smiles when we really need it. Art Huddel, Josh Bang, Herb Myles and Don Popplow were the runner boats again this year, bringing news about the other swimmers to each of us; and Don was busy taking pictures. This year we also had help from Joel Huddel. His enthusiasm was infectious and it was a thrill to have him along. The celebration barbecue was organized and donated by Debbie’s parents Mary Lyn and Herb Myles — a lot of work and greatly appreciated by the swimmers and crew. Marjorie Myles-Bilous helps with the preparation of the food, pick-up, delivery, take-down, pictures and this year helped with gathering the story of the swim from each of the swimmers. Sisters-in-law Lisa Scott and Cathy Myles assist as needed and nephew Harrison staffed a mean barbecue this year, preparing the hamburgers and hot dogs for the crew with Al Scott. Good friends Cheryl and Gary Wight help out at the barbecue and their daughter Hanna is the keeper of the towels, having them dry and waiting for the Bang swimmers. Then we have the cheering squad, which is made up of our children, nieces, nephews, parents, sisters, brothers and friends.All and all, it was another amazing day with perfect conditions. . . a fantastic experience for all involved and an amazing amount of money raised for women and their families affected by breast cancer.