Save the Bay’s Annual Swim Goes Virtual

by | Jul 15, 2020

Above: Marie Therese Shaughnessy, right, did her virtual Save the Bay Swim with friend Elizabeth McNamara on July 11, the date (pre-COVID) the swim was supposed to have been held. 

Several from East Greenwich dive right in

By Morgan Walsh

While in most cases the 50th anniversary for any organization would be filled with optimism and lots of celebrating, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Save the Bay’s golden anniversary year has not gone as planned. After rescheduling beach cleanups in the early spring and summer, canceling their “Earth Day Birthday,” and being unable to host their summer camps in person, they now have to struggle with the cancellation of their biggest annual event and fundraiser, the Save the Bay Swim. 

Rachel Busch during a previous Save the Bay swim, on her way from Newport to Jamestown.

The 1.7 mile trek from Newport to Jamestown, which had been scheduled for July 11, brings together hundreds of people. When Gov. Gina Raimondo announced in April that the summer events would have strict limits on attendance, STB decided it had no choice but to turn the annual swim into a virtual event.

In addition to the extended time period, this year’s event also features more than just the standard swim. In an attempt to boost participation, there are a number of ways to take part: a 2-mile swim, a half-mile swim, a 5K run, a 25-mile bike ride, a 5K row, or 2-mile paddle. While the added events may not be permanent additions, they do allow Save the Bay to explore some alternatives for the swim. 

The excitement and shear number of swimmers may not be replicated, but some swimmers are finding other ways to create camaraderie. 

EG’s Rachel Busch usually gets family members to help her swim. “My dad flew up from Virginia one year to kayak for me, and my husband usually kayaks to spot for me,” she said. “This year since they’re allowing kayaking, paddle boarding, half-mile swims, and all those sorts of things I have some friends who are going to do a half-mile swim with me as part of my training and count that as their event. The same goes for another one of my friends who’s going to paddle board the two miles with me as a spotter for me and count that as her event. It just makes it feel more like a community since a virtual event can be isolating.” 

Marie Therese Shaughnessy also noted how she enjoyed the partnership and camaraderie found with swimming with friend (and EG News editor) Elizabeth McNamara for the event. 

Her daughter, Lily Shaughnessy (EGHS Class of 2023) is also hoping to tackle the swim this year for her first time, proving that even in challenging years there are still people willing to get involved for a good cause. 

Joe Serdakowski, center, with his son, John, left, and son-in-law, Daniel Nattell, right, after last year’s STB swim. Many family members have joined Joe over the years.

For those who’ve been doing the STB swim for years, quitting this year would be unthinkable. Joe Serdakowski is one of those – he first participated 29 years ago in an effort to better his health and he’s hoping to keep his streak going for 50 years, perhaps with one of his grandchildren some day.

He liked the ability to choose the day for his virtual race – swimmers have until Aug. 31 to record their swim. That worked well for longtime STB swimmer Joe Serdakowski of East Greenwich.

“I injured my shoulder a few months ago so I was worried about performing for the swim,” he said. “I felt relief knowing I had till August and that I was able to pick the ideal conditions.” 

He completed his virtual 2-mile swim July 2, going from Sandy Point to Goddard Park, clocking in at 63:40. Shaughnessy and McNamara did their virtual swim July 11, swimming the same course from the opposite direction. No exact time, but around 65 minutes. 

Rob Wolfgang’s love for both open-water swimming and Narragansett Bay has kept him participating in the swim for the last 15 years. “For a fundraiser swim the Save the Bay swim is one of the most organized and efficiently run open-water swims in the area,” Wolfgang wrote. “It is always exciting, fun, and exhilarating, and you feel satisfied physically, mentally, and that you are doing something positive for your fellow Rhode Islanders – keeping one of our best assets clean and usable for years to come.” 

The pandemic may have caused improved air quality worldwide, but Save the Bay officials have not seen such improvements in Rhode Island water quality.

“What is clear, though, is that people are spending more time enjoying their local beach or stretch of shore; more people are spending family time fishing, swimming, boating, and enjoying beautiful views of the bay and coast,” said Save the Bay Executive Director Jonathan Stone. “This is an important moment to appreciate how the Bay enhances the quality of life for all Rhode Islanders and deserves protection.” 

In its 44 years, the Save the Bay Swim has seen many ups and downs. Despite the turbulence they have faced this year, Save the Bay seems to be managing this storm swimmingly. 

Below find links to donate to the swimmers mentioned in this article, or search the Save the Bay site for your favorite swimmer HERE. And, if you are a reader and you are swimming this year, let us know! Leave a comment below or email [email protected].

Rachel Busch
Elizabeth McNamara
Joe Serdakowski
Marie Therese Shaughnessy
Rob Wolfgang


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