Swimming to helps kids with cancer
Like climbers of the world's tallest mountains, some swimmers are never satisfied with their last swim, however long, however fast. They are always looking for the next great challenge, for reasons perhaps they alone can understand. Spectators can only speculate why these swimmers endure the punishment they do, mile after mile, year after year. Because they can? Because it rewards them? Because they're in search of some inner knowledge that is only accessible over the edge?
The reason Fred Brooke repeatedly swims great distances across open stretches of water is crystal clear, and surprisingly sound. He does it because, he says, "it feels selfishly good to give."
Having taken up ocean swimming at the age of 50, Fred Brooke, now 54, has done what most swimmers have not even dreamed possible. He has taken his love of open water swimming and turned it into passion with a very palpable purpose: helping kids with cancer.
In 2001, Fred completed his first marathon swim (six miles) across Buzzard's Bay on Cape Cod strictly as a personal challenge. (He wanted to answer every ancient mariner's question, 'if I fell off a boat, would I be able to swim to shore?') Having accomplished this feat, he sought and found a new challenge and dedicated his next year’s swim across Long Island Sound to helping Angela "Angel" Uihlein, a young girl from his home state of Connecticut who had recently contracted Leukemia. That would be only the beginning of Fred's charitable swimming endeavors.
Inspired by the strength and perseverance that Angel and many other young people exhibit in their battle against cancer; Fred and his friend Lynn McCarthy started Angel Charitable Trust, a 501 (C) (3) in honor of its namesake Angel (now 15 and cancer free!) The Angel Charitable Trust assists financially distressed families who are further burdened by the expenses of having a child with cancer. These families often have no resources available to assist them with everyday living expenses and the Angel Charitable Trust aims to make these children and their families more comfortable during the period of active treatment. From assisting with household bills, to sending kids to camp, to purchasing computers for the kids to keep up with their homework and communicate with one another, the funds are desperately appreciated.
Having conquered the width of Long Island Sound, Fred naturally wanted to swim it length-wise. Sure it's over one hundred miles, but why stop there? Why not attempt to swim the entire coast of New England, from New York to Canada? Not all at once, mind you. Fred will admit he's no Lynn Cox. He's more like the little engine that could. So he determined he would do it one stroke at a time, over a period of 11 summers, raising potentially, millions of dollars. A staggering commitment. The event was dubbed Angel Swim New England.
Angel Swim New England officially began in 2003 with Fred's 8-day, 103-mile solo swim from the New York/Connecticut border to the Connecticut/Rhode Island border. In 2004, the swim proceeded up the Rhode Island coast with a 50-mile swim over a five-day period. In 2005, Angel Swim New England proceeded from the Rhode Island/Massachusetts border to Boston, a distance of approx 80 miles over a 9-day period.
This year alone, Fred's swim, together with Angel Ride Connecticut and assorted other fundraisers raised close to $175,000. 100% of the money is dedicated to bringing happiness to young people battling cancer. Since the charity is 100% volunteer run, 100% of the funds raised go directly to help the kids.
So, every summer through 2013, with Lynn McCarthy kayaking alongside, Fred is scheduled to swim an average of 10 miles at a stretch in frigid New England bodies of water. Encountering waves that nauseate him, he thinks of the kids going through chemotherapy, and it gives him strength. Battling currents that send him backwards, he thinks of kids who have setbacks in their treatment, but who have the courage and faith to never give up. Feeding every 30 minutes through blistered, salt-puckered lips, he remembers the effects of radiation on the children, and how they simply persevere. While Fred receives his inspiration from the children, he, in turn, inspires others not to give up, including swimmers across the U.S. who now ask themselves "how can I give my own passion a purpose?"
There are a lot of great causes in the world to support. There are just as many swimmers who are passionate about their sport. Fred Brooke has shown by example how we can stretch the limits of what's possible by marrying our passion with a purpose.
For specific questions and additional information about Angel Charitable Trust contact:
Address: P.O. Box 1013
Old Lyme, CT 06371
The following passage is excerpted from www.angelswimnewengland.com:
A week has past since our swim to Boston and it’s now early morning on the coast of Maine. I’m sitting on a deserted island gazing out over the smooth, cold ocean reflecting on where the Swim, the Ride and Angel Charitable Trust led us this year. I’m reminded of all the wonderful people who pushed back their busy lives and reached inside themselves for children they’ve never met – of the riders who contributed so much and who hopefully walked away with more—of the countless volunteers for whom "yes, we can" was the underlying theme – of the Hole in the Wall Camp that inspires us all to new heights...and of course, of the children who carry their message of strength and perseverance.
I’d like to believe that our organization touched hundreds of people in the same special ways it touched me. That it represents a collective good that focuses its energy on others rather than on ourselves. That it reminds us of our fragile health while teaching us that hard fought battles can be won. That it rewards us with a glow of pride that tantalizes the soul into wanting more.
I look down at the water...its pale emerald green pulling me in...I recall the endless repetition of stroke after stroke; hour after hour and day after day...Angel Swim 2005. The swimming up Buzzards Bay with its familiar landmarks and generous tides helping me toward the Cape Cod Canal...the unwelcome 52 degree greeting from Massachusetts Bay on the other side...the strong Northeast winds reminding Lynn and I that we progressed only at the whim of a higher power...the relief in catching sight of an escorting harbor master, fireman or Coast Guardsman volunteering his or her day off for some distant and unknown child.
Unlike years past, this year’s swim from Rhode Island to Boston seemed neither tedious nor difficult. The hours passed quickly as I let my mind wander to far off places and left my well being to Lynn; always in her kayak; always by my side. I thought of the children and what it must be like to have one’s fate so uncertain. I thought of their parents and of their unwavering façade of strength; only able to unmask their fear behind closed doors. I thought of my own adult children and whether I’d have the strength to help steer them to health should the occasion arise.
So while the dates and places have already started to fade, my memory of the people will be with me forever...the policeman from Dartmouth who swam alongside in solidarity of our cause ...the marina operators for whom no request was too much...the harbormasters and Coast Guard Auxiliary that kept us safe at seaÖ.and young Andrew and Robert for whom cancer is just a bump in the road. Next year we’ll continue our swim up the coast carrying a message for those who can’t carry it themselves. I’ll again let the clear green water take me to far off places while the rhythm of my breathing sets my mechanical pace...stroke after stroke, child after child. --Fred Brooke
Author's note: This story hits close to home for me. The "young Andrew and Robert" whom Fred mentions above happen to be my nephews, without whom I may have never learned about the humbling endeavors of Fred Brooke. While most kindergartners are lucky to be fighting with their brothers, Andrew, at 5, is fighting a brave battle with leukemia. He is doing great so far, in large part thanks to the good work of Angel Charitable Trust.
This month’s article was submitted by Masters swimmer June Hussey of Tucson, Arizona. Hussey is Long Distance Chair of the Arizona LMSC and newsletter editor of the LMSC newsletter, Swim Arizona.