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Lynbrook teens' donation makes a big splash

Swim Across America aids cancer research

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After 10 straight summers at the Lynbrook Village Pool, the annual Swim Across America event had to be altered this year. That didn’t stop five young Lynbrook residents from doing their part to raise money for cancer research through this event.

For a decade, the Lynbrook pool has hosted Swim Across America each August, and over the years, hundreds of swimmers dived in to raise more than $160,000 for cancer research.

With participation in this year’s event reduced because of the coronavirus, residents Jason Diaz, 12, Sofia and Steven Michelakos, 12 and 9, and Joseph and Rebecca Wolk, 10 and 8, decided they would host their own event at the Lynbrook pool. They reserved the pool at 8 a.m. on Aug. 17 and decided to swim laps to raise money on their own.

“Swim Across America is an important event because it helps people with cancer, and we couldn’t let Covid stop us,” Jason explained.

The five friends pooled their resources, so to speak, and through family and friends, they raised $1,600 for the cause.

After the National Swim Across America Committee canceled all pool and open- water events, it announced a SAA Personal Challenge, in which participants can create their own challenges and pledge to complete them through Oct. 31 while collecting donations from sponsors. The proceeds will support immunotherapy research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, lung cancer clinical trials at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, pediatric brain cancer research at the Feinstein Institute of North Shore and pediatric oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital.

According to the SAA website, some of the suggested personal challenges include setting a goal for a distance to walk, bike, swim, kayak or run; golfing a safe round with friends; volunteering for food pantries and Covid-19-related causes; climbing a mountain; or hosting a Zoom conference with a celebrity or Olympian. Kevin Shine, an executive board member for SAA, told the Herald last month that there were more than 170 personal challenges this year that had already raised more than $360,000.

Although there are restrictions on the number of people allowed in because of the pandemic, the Lynbrook Village Pool is open to the public, and if personal challenge participants want to hold a swim challenge there, they can sign up for a slot in the lap lanes through the village website (lynbrookvillage.net), and timeslots come in 50-minute increments.

For the five Lynbrook friends, they said they just wanted to get back in the water and swim to raise awareness.

“It’s important that I specifically participated in this year’s Swim Across America because people who have cancer are at a greater risk for the coronavirus,” Sofia Michelakos said, “and that is why we needed to help them. Swimming those laps was tiring, but it wasn’t hard compared to what people have to go through to fight cancer.”

The next step for the young participants was to find a time and place to swim. The place was easy — the Lynbrook pool — but finding the time to swim laps amid a pandemic with the pool permitting only a limited number of people was the challenge. Eventually, they reserved their lap lane time and got into the pool early on Aug. 17.

The young people challenged themselves to swim one mile in 30 minutes. It was a tough swim, they said, but through perseverance and commitment, the five friends reached their goal.

While the Nassau Suffolk Chapter of SAA was started in 2001, the annual Lynbrook swim began in 2010, and was organized by Julie Bergin and Kelly Stapleton, who, along with their children, Kyle and Emily Bergin and Kevin and Siobhan Stapleton, rallied the community to raise funds for cancer research over the years.

Rebecca Wolk said it meant a great deal to her to swim for a cause. “I want to help families that have cancer in their lives and are praying for help,” she said. “We just want to help them.”

For more information or to sign up, visit swimacrossamerica.org/goto/Lynbrook. All participants who sign up will donate a $25 registration fee and receive a Swim Across America T-Shirt. For high school or middle school students who are interested in earning community service hours, participating in the SAA personal challenge is a possibility.