Photos by Asia Morris.
On the sunny Saturday morning this past weekend, nearly one hundred people gathered at Alamitos Bay Landing to the chilling sound of bagpipes.
The crowd consisted of an unordinary group of people: pediatric cancer survivors, patients, their families and supporters... All were waiting to welcome 33 local firefighters, lifeguards and police officers, finishing their grueling journey of a swim from Catalina Island to Long Beach. The Long Beach Fire Department Pipe Band set the tone to the joyful tears, congratulatory hugs and sighs of relief as the exhausted swimmers climbed upon the dock to hug and interact with the children of Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Center (JJCCC) at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach.
The Long Beach Fire Department (LBFD) and Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach partnered together for an open-water, overnight, swimming challenge benefiting research programs at JJCCC. Local firemen, police officers and lifeguards swam 28 miles overnight in a swimming relay, taking approximately 42,487 admirable strokes in an effort to endure the 10-hour swim between Catalina Island and Long Beach.
The swimmers were greeted with sign-holding, hand-waving, ecstatic JJCCC patients, families and supporters on Saturday morning, the end of the swim marking the grand finale to the Childhood Cancer Awareness Month festivities. This is the second year in a row the LBFD has partnered with Miller Children for the Catalina Swim Challenge to raise money for pediatric cancer research. While last year’s event only attracted six swimmers (one relay team), this year’s challenge boasted more than thirty participants.
Firefighter Curtis Bowman, who started the event last year and played a large part in organizing this year’s swim challenge, said, “Last year, myself and other firefighters and lifeguards wanted to challenge ourselves and we thought we could raise some money for charity while doing it. So we contacted Miller Children’s Hospital and started our relationship with them... It’s quite an accomplishment when you see it all come together and you know, I’m not the only one who got this thing going. There’s thirty-three swimmers, paddlers, all the guys in the boats, all the Long Beach people. There’s a lot to be said for everyone who participated.
"We did a lot of leg work between the two events. We tried to recruit other people, the police department, lifeguards. This event is good for morale, it’s good for the firefighters and lifeguards, it’s a good bonding experience for a good cause. If we can raise as much money as possible for the kids who need it at the hospital...it’s good for the community, it’s just a win-win for everyone.”
Keith Dixon smiles as he approaches Curtis Bowman (right) after finishing the swim.
The 28-mile swim is completed by relay teams of six people, with each participant swimming for thirty minute legs then returning to the accompanying boat. Tyler Anderson, a Long Beach native and lifeguard, posed with Sydney Waldrop, a 9-year-old year old cancer survivor who was treated at The Center for Langerhans cell sarcoma, for a picture. Anderson described the swim from Catalina Island to The Boathouse on the Bay as "really choppy at the get-go" but with "warm water" and "glass" once the sun was up.
Participating firefighters put in weeks, and sometimes months of training time before the event, knowing full well that their presence will truly make a difference.
“We do half hour to hour-long ocean swims three to four times a week," Anderson [pictured right with Waldrop] explained. "The challenge is just one more fundraiser that we can do, that people can get excited about. You know when people hear that we’re swimming across the channel they get pretty fired up, so it’s fun.”
Laura Perez, who watched the swimmers arrive with her husband, Beto, and her daughter Bella, who turned two in July, described her daughter’s battle with Leukemia.
“Bella was born with Leukemia," Perez said, "diagnosed at three weeks of age and began her first round at three weeks, then she was in the hospital for seven months. She had Acute Myeloid Leukemia. She’s been cancer free for almost two years.”
On working with Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Center, Perez only had positive comments to give, exclaiming, “We made it through with the hospital. They’re like family now and we wouldn’t have wanted her anywhere else.”
Perez explained that fundraisers like the Catalina Swim Challenge are fundamental to finding a cure and can boost morale for the pediatric cancer patients and their families.
“The children feel loved and it raises awareness and it just shows them that people notice and want to help," Perez [pictured left with Keith Dixon and Bella Perez] said, "that we’re taking the steps toward a cure. Every day, every dollar that they raise is one step closer to a cure.”
“To see all those swimmers in the water, it’s a little bit humbling," Bowman said. "I can’t believe all these people were this excited about participating and it was just a good feeling to see everyone make it over safely. It’s nerve wracking to get into the ocean in the middle of the night for a swim. We did it for a good cause...You have to keep in the back of your mind that you’re doing it for the kids at the hospital. One thing that kept me going was just the thought of what these kids are dealing with, for me to feel a little scared in the ocean is nothing compared to what these kids are going through.”
You can still donate to the cause here.