Local nonprofit Arms Around Bainbridge will be forging ahead through the COVID-19 pandemic Saturday by holding its 14th annual swim event with additional protocols to ensure participants give each other enough space while in the water.
Money raised goes toward individuals who are dealing with serious and life-threatening illnesses.
As of Tuesday, 30 swimmers, 23 paddlers and six powerboats had signed up.
“This year is better than average,” Ken Goodman said, manager of the swim relay. “…Open-water swimming seems to have really boomed this year because the pool is closed, so more people are now comfortable with swimming in Puget Sound. Also, because people aren’t traveling much this summer, we have more people in town for the relay.
“We wondered whether we’d be able to have the relay this year because of the pandemic,” Goodman added. “Once we figured out how to handle the social-distancing aspect, our main concern was whether people would be willing to participate. As you can see from the numbers, that hasn’t been an issue.”
Goodman said the community gives the event great support each year, even with problems caused by the coronavirus.
“The relay exists only because Bainbridge Island has a strong sense of community and generosity,” Goodman said. “Year after year, swimmers, paddlers, and powerboats turn out to support total strangers and, by their participation, to let them know that they are not alone in their fight against a serious illness. I think of it as a mammoth virtual hug every year.”
Participants can sign up to swim any distance they know they can complete and can schedule their swim for the time of day that works best for them. Every swimmer is accompanied by a kayaker throughout the swim. Swimmers will start just before sunrise in Blakely Harbor and will end in Blakely Harbor around 7 p.m., according to the organization’s website.
Each participant is encouraged to raise money for AAB and can set up their own fundraising page so others can contribute directly to the cause. The nonprofit also has sponsorships for each leg of the swim from individuals and businesses in the community.
This year’s swim will be put on with an abundance of caution, providing 15 access points with only a few swimmers entering and leaving the water at each spot, the website states. Typically, all swimmers would gather at four locations.
Kayakers won’t have any changes to their routines, as they will still gather at the usual four spots, Goodman said. Powerboats will have no changes to their schedule either but will not be loading and unloading swimmers or their gear, rather helping to escort swimmers to and from access points.
The 15 access points for the event are: Port Blakely Park, Bottom of Toe Jam Hill, Fort Ward boat ramp, Point White pier, Crystal Springs – North, Fletcher Bay landing, Battle Point, Dock Street, Agatewood, Fay Bainbridge Park, Brackenwood, Rolling Bay, Yeomalt and Creosote Point.
No post-swim party will be held but folks can cheer the final swimmers and kayakers as they finish at Port Blakely Park beach below 3-T Road, Goodman said.
In 2015, AAB began asking relay participants to volunteer in additional fundraising. In 2014, the swim event raised $8,214, and since then has averaged $33,640 per year, Goodman said. AAB has distributed nearly $1 million to island residents who are struggling financially due to a serious illness.
The funds’ recipients receive go toward basic necessities such as rent, groceries, utility bills, insurance premiums, gas, car maintenance, prescription glasses, medical and prescription co-pays, and ferry passes and parking for medical appointments in Seattle.
Goodman said AAB’s fundraising goal this year is $30,000. Donations can be made at armsaroundbainbridge.org.
AAB started in 2007 with seven friends completing a 30-mile swim around the island in efforts to provide financial and emotional support to a friend who was battling ovarian cancer, per the website. The basis of AAB’s intentions centers around an “ongoing problem of island residents in financial crisis due to life-threatening injuries.”
Since the initial swim, the event has grown with the support of hundreds of individuals, local businesses, and the philanthropic community. AAB also holds other events throughout the year.
“By challenging the cold waters and weather conditions of Puget Sound, the participants understand how much we can do for strangers in need as a community. The wider community learns that one, Bainbridge Island still has residents living at the edge of poverty, and two, a serious illness can quickly erode a comfortable financial situation into one of dire need.”