On Friday, July 19, at 6 a.m., 140 swimmers and their kayakers boarded a sunrise ferry to the Fire Island Lighthouse. At 7 a.m., they plunged into the 80-degree waters of the Great South Bay, embarking on their 5.44 mile trek across the bay to celebrate a tradition, and the 20th anniversary of The Maggie Fischer Memorial Great South Bay Cross Bay Swim.
In 1999, the swim was dedicated to the memory of Maggie Fischer. One of the 15 scheduled competitors that year, Maggie unfortunately passed away only a few days before the event. In her spirit, swimmers #Swimformaggie, as written on their Facebook page.
“For everybody else, its 20 years of swimming across the Great South Bay and being a part of this this amazing community,” said Robert Fischer. “For us, it’s 20 years without our Maggie. I realized that day that Maggie is missing … but she has all of these stand-ins – hundreds of stand-ins. I think a lot of people feel that way. It certainly makes my family feel a lot better to see that.”
As a part of the 20th anniversary celebration, the Cross Bay Swim honored Ed Mooney, president of the Fire Island Ferries. “Ed has been so critical to us,” Fischer said. “His now deceased wife, Pat (Patricia Ann Mooney), was pivotal in helping us gain an awful lot of support. She would call up my wife, Mary, each year and ask, ‘Do you need anything this year for this year.’ She would always reach out on her end to help coax us along.”
According to the Cross Bay Swim Facebook page, Captain Mooney and Fire Island Ferries. Inc. have provided, and continue to provide, irreplaceable transportation to the start of the swim. They play a critical role in the growth and success of the event.
“Ed always allowed whatever resources he had to be at our disposal, with no questions asked. If you look at what we use from the ferries, we utilize an awful lot of his resources at a crucial time of the summer. We appreciate him so much.”
Mooney turned 90 this year, according to Fischer. He said that this is around the same age as the swim, and they felt honoring him was an appropriate celebration for all that Fire Island Ferries has contributed.
Christopher Arena, 20, of Amityville, was the first person to cross the finish line at Gilbert Park in Brightwaters with a total time of 1:48. Arena placed first for the fourth consecutive year. “I would place this year as the second hardest year I have done the swim, in my four years competing,” said Arena. “I would call this my favorite event of the summer. A lot of St. Anthony’s alumni come out to support [it], and it’s a great time to see people.”
Meghan Slattery, 21, of Bayport, was the first female to complete the swim. Slattery used her land legs to cross the finish line after 2:02. “The conditions were great; it was very smooth this year,” said Slattery. “It got pretty hot out there in the middle, but it was a great race.”
Slattery has participated in the swim the past two years. Like Arena, she is also a St. Anthony’s alumni. “I love this day more than any other day,” said Slattery. “The people here are incredible. There is a great story behind this swim, and I look forward to it every single year since I started in 2017. I swam for St. Anthony’s with a lot of the Friars out here today and it’s great to see everybody support [the swim].”
Each swimmer is asked to raise $500 to be donated to the Hospice Care Network Children’s Bereavement Fund and the Maggie Fischer Scholarship Fund, awarded to a St. Anthony’s student. “It’s a community event and it’s certainly for a wonderful, wonderful cause,” said Mindy Podesta, 67, of Bay Shore, a longtime volunteer of the swim. “I knew Maggie … she and my daughter were classmates. The work that the Hospice Care Network Children’s Bereavement Fund does is remarkable, and I am so fulfilled to be a part of this cause.”
According to their website, greatsouthbayswim. com, in 2018, $81,000 was donated to the Hospice Care Network Children’s Bereavement Fund and $25,000 to the Maggie Fischer Scholarship Fund.
“The conditions were almost ideal with one exception,” said Fischer. “There was more tide against us in the beginning than we expected. We knew there would be some tide working against us in the beginning. The times were a little slower, and the swimmers certainly had to work a little harder.” There were partly cloudy conditions the day of the swim, with a 5 mph north wind dominating the conditions of the water. “The conditions were really great, they couldn’t have been much better,” said Mike Dunn, 51, of Bay Shore. “It was calmer than usual; we were lucky to get a day like this. We had a little help in current there between miles two and three … It’s a mind game that last mile, determining how hard you want to push yourself.”
Dunn has previously competed in the swim. His daughter, Madeline Dunn, 17, also completed the swim for her first time. “Each year I come back to the swim to support the Fischer’s and the lifeguard community,” said Mike Dunn. “To be a part of an event like this is remarkable.”
According to the swim history provided by Rory Allen (who was the force behind renaming the swim in honor of Maggie), 1999 marked a turning point for the Cross Bay Swim, renamed in dedication of Maggie Fischer that year. The cross bay swim, which originated in 1927, had been suspended in 1973, but plans were underway to resurrect it that year with only a handful of swimmers, and it has grown to support the 140 that participated this year.
“We are blown away by how the swim has grown and matured … as well as how the community, or should I say communities, have been responsive in allowing us to do so,” said Fischer. “We take most of the Fire Island communities, everyone associated with The Great South Bay: the coast guard, fire departments, police … and then we use the Town of Islip and the Village of Brightwaters to support us. Along with many volunteers, we are amazed at how neatly this has come together. It was bittersweet to celebrate 20 years.”
I tack this onto the end of this story with mere, but meaningful intent. I break two critical rules of journalism, removing yourself from your articles and creating an ending with one intent: to inspire.
As a former swimmer of the Cross Bay Swim, I write to align myself with the message brought to light with all the quotes provided in the text above. The Maggie Fischer Memorial Great South Bay Cross Bay Swim does not grow in success because of competition, but with so much pride that oozes from swimmers who participate.
The Fischer family has continued to lead a tradition, in memory of their daughter, that goes beyond the meaning of inspirational. The feeling of crawling out of the Great South Bay with muscle pain and the fatigue that arises from pressuring your body to swim five and a half miles is blinded by the fulfillment that comes from participating in such an event.
Those who are able to do so should consider registering and training for the swim. If long distance swimming is not your thing, there are many other ways to be involved – spot a swimmer in a kayak if rowing is more for you, or offer volunteer support services behind the scenes, and of course, gracious sponsors and donors keep the momentum going strong. There is room enough for all to become part this unmatchable Long Island tradition.
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