By Lorna Luniewski
Rory Allen is a busy guy. A Fire Department New York (FDNY) firefighter, a ferry captain with Fire Island Ferries, and he docked his boat early after a day of oystering to meet with me. But on July 13, he will take a moment to be honored at the Maggie Fischer Memorial Great South Bay Cross Bay Swim, an event he revived back in 1999.
Allen, a Bay Shore resident, believes strongly in community involvement, something he credits his parents, Elizabeth and Ronnie Allen, for instilling in him. He spoke of his enjoyment running the event with all his friends, and what a great community Bay Shore is – generous, supportive and made up of good people.
Fire Island News (FIN): I understand your were instrumental in bringing the swim back.
Rory Allen (RA): Well yes. I had the idea and I spoke to a few of my confidants about the possibility of it. My folks being great organizers their entire lives, I bounced questions off of them and used their guidance. I traversed the bay so many times via sailboat, via ferry, via party boat. It was something I had heard of so I did a little research and then I contacted the swimmers that I knew, all lifeguards. There wasn’t a great response because no one knew of it, but I certainly wanted to make it a safe swim so I kept the number under 20, I think it was 22. Working at the ferry company was a great plus. One because they offered a ferry to bring everyone over (laughs) and two because of the support they gave me, as well as all the staff; they were my volunteer pool. I’d say at least 70 percent of my volunteer pool. The ferry company and staff were excellent.
FIN: Allen went on to explain his connection with Maggie Fischer.
RA: I was worried about how many people were going to swim because I didn’t really know how to get the information out except word of mouth. But the applications definitely started to come in. I forget the day of the week of the swim, but I know it was a Thursday or a Friday that Maggie Fischer called me. I had met her or once or twice, she was much younger so our paths never really crossed. She asked how she could get her application to me. I asked her about her schedule. She said she was taking the Saltaire ferry that night and said I well I’m on the Saltaire ferry tonight. She didn’t show up, and before my shift was through, I heard what happened.
FIN: The next decision for Allen was whether the swim should go on.
RA: I had to reach out to my confidants and to the community to see what the feeling was. Should I still have the swim; should I try to postpone it? I really spoke to all the participants at that time to find out what they thought, and they thought it was best to honor her and do the swim. So that’s how it went down. And, it was a very sad situation for the start of something that was a restart of something. But most of the people involved knew Maggie and the Fischers, my folks knew the Fischers well, and we had the opportunity at the wake to present them with a medal and a shirt, all the swimmers’ shirts had MF on the sleeve. And the swim went well, definitely with her (Maggie’s) oversight.
FIN: How did it come to be renamed after Maggie?
RA: So the next year, I just thought it would be nice if it could, and I asked the Fischer’s permission. And interest peaked; you had double the swimmers the next year. And coincidentally, even before the tragic accident, we had already organized with Hospice Children’s Bereavement Fund to have the donations go there; there were more donations than swimmers the first year. We had no real charge because everyone volunteered. The people in the community, again before the tragic event, were just so generous with support, with ideas. Donna Perricone from Bay Shore Chamber gave me a lot of input and put the word out, so local businesses also … I had a team go door to door to local businesses for any type of donation. It was a real community event, and to see what it has become with the amount of swimmers, the money that has come into Hospice Children’s Bereavement Fund, the attention, from Brightwaters, Bay Shore and Fire Island, it’s a wonderful thing. Maybe I just lit the tiny little match but the Fischers were the fuel, the torch, and the engine ever since, and I’m very pleased with how well they are doing with it.
FIN: Do you swim it or have you?
RA: No I haven’t. That was my intent, and I told Mr. Fischer … I kept organizing it and he made several attempts and he did it, but he said, ‘When are you going to swim it?’ And I said, ‘when you run it.’ That was 15 years ago and I intend to swim it this year. Part of my day today was doing a mile and a quarter in the pool.
FIN: Can you tell me why you are being honored?
RA: You know, I think the Fischers are just being very generous. Again, I only struck a match that they fueled the flames for … they should be honored. I’m hoping they are honored. I volunteered last year, but in the interim I got really busy; I feel bad that I haven’t had the opportunity to reconnect as much. Last year it was a challenging year for the swimmers too. They all do such a great job, and the organization is very, very good.
FIN: It seems like quite an undertaking.
RA: Oh yea. Even when I had 30 swimmers sometimes I was talking to 50 or 60 volunteers, so I can only imagine, I’m sure they are dealing with probably 30 boats not to mention ferries, probably six to seven different agencies … whether it be local departments, police, the Coast Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary. It’s remarkable for anyone who is involved. There are not too many swims in the country that are this length in open water so there is something to be said for that too. Again, I’m just so happy that it had such a great history well before I touched it and now my short time, which was really only a four-year exposure with it, but it had a great history revived, and hopefully it goes on for quite a long time.
And while Allen cannot pinpoint why he is being honored and hopes that the ceremony is small and that most people are gone when he gets out of the water, Bob Fischer, Maggie’s father, was happy to explain why he was chosen. “We don’t honor someone every year,” he said. “In the committee meeting, someone said Rory would be a good choice. He never got enough credit … he knew the tradition and was the driving force in bringing it back to the community. It was his idea to have the swim renamed in Maggie’s memory.”
Fischer also shared the same story Allen did of the two men challenging each other over the years to swim and to run the event. The swim committee meets at the YMCA. The night they chose Allen as the honoree, as Fischer was leaving, who was walking in? Allen, who was there to swim in preparation for this year’s event. Coincidence? “My daughter had something to do with it,” Fischer said.
And this writer agrees. In researching this article and reading about previous swims, one thing always shines through. The Maggie Fisher Memorial Great South Bay Cross Bay Swim is something special, and Maggie is there in spirit.
The Maggie Fischer Memorial Great South Bay Cross Bay Swim takes place this year on Friday, July 13. Swimming registrations are now closed. However one can donate to the cause by visiting www. greatsouthbayswim.com.