Vanoy Harris, 58, has traveled from Kentucky to Fire Island since 2014, to embark on the five-mile journey that is the Maggie Fischer Memorial Cross Bay Swim. He will not be participating in the 2020 race because of restrictions to training and travel imposed by COVID-19. Harris, once a federal air marshal and U.S. military serviceman, currently works as a fitness trainer. He described his life to the Fire Island News as a map that has been navigated by his love of family and facing challenges. This is his story.
Fire Island News (FIN): How did you begin competing in the Cross Bay Swim?
Vanoy Harris (VH): When I was an air marshal, I was assigned to the New York office. So I have friends up there in New York who intrigued me to participate in the swim. I did live in Bay Shore at one point. I started off in 2013 as a kayaker for my friend Rick Ramsey, and he said to me, ‘Why don’t you do it next year?’ That first year I swam in 2014, I won the best endurance award. I have been participating ever since.
FIN: How does it feel that you have won the best endurance award? VH: As an older gentleman, it caught me by surprise … you know, there is a lot of talent out there. There is a lot of young, middle aged and old talent. I am not a natural swimmer. I was only familiar with water safety in the army and was never competitive. The Maggie Fischer swim is unique because it is competitive yet it’s a fundraiser … full of people who all want to see one another succeed. When I say competitive, I don’t suggest that the swim is an unwelcoming event. The sentiment of the swim is like no other. I knew that I didn’t have the speed like everybody else, but I also didn’t realize how long I was in the water for. I was very surprised to gain the recognition and felt so lucky.
FIN: Why do you travel all the way from Kentucky to participate in the Cross Bay Swim?
VH: I travel back and forth to be with my friends and also challenge myself to compete in the swim each year. I believe in the organization and I thoroughly respect all of the hard work that the Fischer’s put in each year to host the event in memory of their daughter. I have also had family members who have been under hospice care and the swim is something I gladly dedicate my time to. I believe that the Cross Bay Swim stands out compared to other athletic competitions.
FIN: What aspect of the swim is most sentimental to you?
VH: I have two sons who kayak for me. My boys are the only ones who could get me across the finish line. There were two
years where I finished officially in under four hours. Without my boys to kayak, I don’t know if I could have ever finished … they really listened to me and knew how to motivate me. It makes me feel proud that I know they also feel proud to be out there with their dad, swimming across that large, large bay. It is pretty big when you live together, you know. I love that we have all achieved something of such magnitude together. It makes me so proud to have them with me … and that they provided me with the power and the courage to complete the swim.
FIN: In all of your experiences participating in the swim, what is the largest challenge you faced?
VH: I have formally crossed the finish line in under four hours twice. Not getting to cross that finish line after working so hard to do so makes you feel so bad, but that’s just part of the game … it makes you want to train just a little bit harder for the next year. I have been pulled out of that water with only half a mile left and worked harder the following year to work to finish.
FIN: Why won’t you be competing in in this year’s swim?
VH: Because of COVID-19, I won’t be able to participate in this year’s swim. I wasn’t able to train as ear- ly as I would have liked to in the pool because it was closed. I didn’t want to put myself in a position where I wasn’t able to train to the capacity I need to complete the race. I believe that a lot of ritual swimmers were put in this position because of the restrictions to training that COVID-19 presented. Yet, I wish every swimmer the best of luck this year in completing the swim and hope that the organization still thrives off of the community energy despite the change in pace that the swim will have this year.
UPDATE: The Maggie Fischer Memorial Cross Bay Swim was cancelled on July 24, 2020 due to inclement weather conditions, with no reschedule date announced.
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