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Relay for Life in the Pool

Beating cancer with a motivated team

Laura Jones | December 31, 2011

Tom Taylor is a part time resident of Sun City, Arizona, but he is fully invested in his winter community and his swim club. He proved his commitment recently by organizing a swim relay in conjunction with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. His club, the Sun City Starrs, has several members battling cancer as well as several cancer survivors on their team, so Taylor quickly recruited enough swimmers to do the 12-hour relay in a single lane of their regular pool.

Taylor, 81 and a member of Arizona Masters Swim Club, says the Starrs are a close knit group; they have coffee after their morning practices. Taylor harnessed that group spirit in the day-long relay event to raise money for cancer research and support. The Sun City Starrs raised well over $3,000 for the fight against cancer. “We were out of shape for raising money like that. I think we’ll raise a lot more next year,” says Taylor who is proud of the group’s efforts.

Taylor got the idea for the swim realy after attending an introductory meeting of the “regular” Relay for Life and suggested the Swim Relay for Life. The local chapter of the American Cancer Society liked the idea and asked him to do it the day before the walk-a-thon so the swimmers could be recognized at the party. The American Cancer Society also provided much of the support for the event, especially with fundraising.

Twenty six members of the Sun City Starrs participated in the April 13th Sun City Swim Relay for Life: Mari Aguirre, Roger Aguirre, Armando Barnett, Darlene Baumgard, Sharon Billeter, Lisa Bogatko, Carsten Carlson, Malinda Case, Mary Ann Case, William Frey, Elaine Guest, Sandra Jungling, Susan Ketterer, Gail LaLumiere, Bev Linihan, John Longo, Dianne McCarthy, Tom Mismash, Rod Newport, George Orning, Judy Pauley, Ken Piepgras, Margaret Tiffany, Tom Rigley, Tom Taylor, and Carol Vangel.

The day started at 6:45 am when volunteers handed out time assignments and t-shirts. All cancer survivors wore purple tee shirts that day; the rest wore white ones. The first swimmer got in the water at 7:30 am, and most swam for 30 minutes and most swam freestyle. Then from 7–7:30 pm, everyone got back in the water and they all swam with luminaria on deck.

Luminaria are lighted candles in translucent bags. As explained on the Relay for Life website: “All Relay For Life participants, survivors and caregivers remember loved ones lost to cancer and honor those battling the disease through luminaria bags. Simple white luminaria bags are transformed and illuminated after dark at every local Relay For Life event. Each one is personalized with the name, photo, message or drawing in memory or honor of a friend or loved one who has been affected by cancer. Each luminaria candle represents a person.”luminaria in swim relay

With everyone in the water, Taylor explains, “we could only scull or float, and I had smoked goggles, so I could see anything after about 7:15 and I got whammed a few times.” But there were definitely more laughs than bruises.

“This whole event was very personal for me,” says Taylor, whose favorite part of the event was the lighting of the luminaria.

Taylor had a schedule down to the minute, but the realities of life required some flexibility on everyone’s part. All in all, he thought things went very smoothly, “smashingly” even, and they enjoyed nice weather despite a bad forecast. Taylor says the planning wasn’t too time consuming either, only requiring about nine hours of his time.

Case, president of the Sun City Starrs Masters wrote of the event: "Hopefully our lead will be picked up next year by other Masters swim clubs throughout the U.S. Our effort was to celebrate our members who are survivors, and especially Bobbi Malone and Sumi Anderson, who were, until recently, teammates of ours. We challenge all the clubs in the U.S. to hold their own swim relay in our nation's fight against cancer."

“It was everything we thought it would be,” Taylor says. “We already decided we had so much fun we’re going to do it again next year.”

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About the Author—Laura Jones

Laura S. Jones, a lawyer by training, has written about sports, health, and science for a variety of publications since 2001. She's also the author of a short story collection, "Breaking and Entering," published in 2011. Jones is an avid, although not speedy, open water swimmer and particularly enjoys 5K and 10K ocean swims with her much faster husband, Rob. She'll occasionally humble herself with a 400IM or 500 free in a pool meet, and a triathlon or two.

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