Provincetown Life Information

Swim for Life event raises $150,000 for Provincetown charity organizations

Published: Sun September 10, 2006
By: Straight Dope in Life > Beach & Ocean
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By K.C. MYERS | Cape Cod Times

They both wore black to their wedding, black wetsuits that is.

As about 300 swimmers prepared to cross the 1.4-mile watery divide between Long Point and Provincetown Harbor yesterday, Kathryn Rafter, 53, and Francey Beall, 44, exchanged wedding vows. No sooner had the newlyweds completed their nuptials than they zipped up their wetsuits and dove in.

‘’We’ve done the swim for seven years, and we’ve been together for seven years,’’ said Rafter, who lives in Provincetown and Dallas, Texas. ‘’And there’s not a better place in the world to start our journey together.’’

It was one of many touching moments in the 19 years the Provincetown Swim for Life & Paddler Flotilla has been churning up the harbor raising money for Cape Cod nonprofits.

Started by local artist Jay Critchley in 1988 as an AIDS benefit when the epidemic was overwhelming Provincetown, the event has raised around $2 million collectively, he said.

The first year one of the swimmers, Chucky Vetter, made it about 1,000 feet before his strength gave out. He died about a year later from AIDS, Critchley said.

Six years ago, Barbara Punis, who uses a wheelchair because of back problems, began swimming in a pool in a hotel near the Swim for Life event. It takes 124 laps, but each year since she has completed the 1.4-mile journey.

‘’It’s a personal challenge,’’ Punis said yesterday.

This year, a Brookline mother, Susan Austrian, and her 13-year-old son, Matthew, trained together all summer and completed the swim. Matthew was the youngest swimmer.

‘’He doesn’t consider himself an athlete at all, and he’s terrified of jellyfish, so he really had to overcome a lot,’’ said Susan, as Matthew received a round of applause at the Mermaid Brunch, the feast that ends the swim each year.

A Provincetown father and daughter team, Shawn McNulty and Nicole, raised $10,460 in pledges.

But the top pledge collectors were the newlyweds, Rafter and Beall, who brought in $13,035.

The fastest swimmer was Dan Guerrera of New York City, who crossed the finish line in 29 minutes. Pledges amounted to an estimated $150,000, about level with recent years, Critchley said.

Wearing a stuffed tiger tied atop his straw hat, Critchley used a microphone to direct hundreds of cheerleaders, lifeguards, kayakers, swimmers and volunteers during yesterday’s blissful event.

‘’Thank you swimmers for making Provincetown a priority in your lives,’’ he said.

Perhaps the bliss was most acutely felt by the recently married couple, who said the swim was a metaphor for their wedding.

‘’We haven’t trained for either,’’ Rafter said. ‘’But it’s been a lifetime of training for both.’’

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