“Virtual Swim” Option Opens Up 40th Annual Save The Bay Swim to All

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PROVIDENCE, RI – Now there is another way to swim the Bay in this 40th anniversary year of the Save The Bay Swim. The iconic open-water swim from Newport to Jamestown will take place on Saturday, August 13, giving more than 500 swimmers and kayakers a chance to draw attention and raise support for Narragansett Bay water quality. But for a variety of reasons, some who want to do the Swim, can’t. “We know there are some swimmers who want to support Narragansett Bay and participate in this anniversary swim, but either can’t be here or aren’t confident their swimming skills will carry them all the way across the Bay. They want to swim in spirit, so to speak. We are pleased to invite them to register as ‘virtual swimmers’,” said Save The Bay Special Events Manager Leanne Danielsen. “Virtual swimmers have the same fundraising responsibilities as actual swimmers, and they receive the same rewards—the medal, the towel, the t-shirt, a 40th Swim cap, and the satisfaction of knowing they’ve made a difference to Narragansett Bay,” Danielsen said.

Charlestown resident Dr. Rick Fleeter is a virtual swimmer who will make the 1.7-nautical-mile journey in the 22-square-mile, beautiful Bracciano Lake just outside Rome, Italy. And Ruth “Cheerleader” Mullen, of Providence, will be “swimming in spirit,” from the shore where she volunteers at the finish line.

The virtual swim idea actually originated when Fleeter realized how many people are turned away from the actual event each year due to space limitations. “I just thought that’s a shame, because they could be out there raising money for Save The Bay.” Plus, as a visiting professor at University of Rome, the Brown University engineering professor spends more time in Italy than he does in Rhode Island these days, and can’t make it home in the summertime. So he proposed the idea, and a virtual swim was born, although Save The Bay hasn’t actively promoted the virtual swim until this 40th anniversary year. This will be Fleeter’s fourth virtual swim in Italy. Like many swimmers here, he sends letters to 80 or so friends, family members and fellow athletes, raising awareness and support for Save The Bay and Narragansett Bay from afar.

Mullen, an investment advisor with Parsons Capital Management, has been a virtual swimmer for about six years, but in a different way. An enthusiastic cheerleader for her late husband Jim, who did The Swim until he passed away in 2003, Mullen became involved with Save The Bay as a member of the finance committee and chair of the investment committee, created the well-known Jim Mullen Challenge in honor of the personal challenge Jim set to motivate himself during training (to swim the Bay in minutes the same number as his age in years), and eventually decided to do the Swim as a way to honor him. The problem was, open water makes her nauseated. “So for the first couple of years, I swam in a pool. Now, because of a shoulder injury, I can’t swim the distance, so I register, treat the fundraising just like the real swim, and volunteer at the finish line. And I love getting the towel,” she said.

“The virtual swim is such a great idea because you can support Save The Bay in a way that’s so much more comfortable and accessible to everyone. You can tailor it to your own schedule, location, or physical issue, and you treat the fundraising just as if you were swimming in Narragansett Bay. It’s not a race; the point is to support Save The Bay financially, and this is such an important part of the budget each year.  Whether you swim or swim in spirit, it’s all an extension of the Save The Bay mission, making sure we can enjoy a beautiful Bay for years to come,” Mullen said.

The 40th annual Save The Bay Swim will be held on August 13, 2016. About 500 swimmers and nearly 200 kayakers between the ages of 15 and 83+ annually participate in the 1.7-nautical-mile journey from Naval Station Newport on Coaster’s Harbor Island across the East Passage to Jamestown’s Potter Cove, while others will swim virtually in lakes or pools and on couches across the globe. One of the most storied open-water swims in the United States, the Save The Bay Swim celebrates tremendous progress in cleaning up Narragansett Bay since its first official Swim in 1977 and the organization’s founding in 1970. In the early years of the Swim, swimmers often emerged from the water with oil and tar balls on their skin and swimsuits. Last year, swimmers reported seeing schools of menhaden beneath them as they swam.

For more information and to register for the Swim, as a swimmer or virtual swimmer, visit savebay.org/theswim.

About Save The Bay: Founded in 1970, Save The Bay works to protect and improve Narragansett Bay and its watershed through advocacy, education, and restoration efforts. It envisions a fully swimmable, fishable, healthy Narragansett Bay, accessible to everyone and globally recognized as an environmental treasure.

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