By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)
Westport, CT – Just hours into the event, Mark Schachter had chalked up 85 laps and Aileen Coyne had tallied 92. Many other aquatic enthusiasts were right behind them ready to try their personal best.
The swimmers were gutting it out at the Westport Wilton YMCA in downtown Westport as part of a “24 Hours of Laps Swim Marathon”. The function was being sponsored by Al’s Angels, with all proceeds used to provide holiday meals and gifts for children and families in the Tri-State Area suffering from life-threatening illnesses, cancer, rare blood diseases and severe financial hardship. The event commenced at 10 a.m. Saturday April 30 and was scheduled to conclude at the same time Sunday morning.
“I founded Al’s Angels 10 years ago, after meeting a couple who had been wiped out financially by medical expenses related to their child’s cancer care,” said Al DiGuido. “My wife, Chris, and I realized we had healthy kids and an obligation to help other parents with kids in need. I had been doing fundraising for cancer with Tomorrow’s Children’s Fund in Hackensack, NJ and wanted to expand beyond just that one facility.”
DiGuido said past events have included 24 Hours of Hope, a fitness fundraiser that raised over $110,000. In New York City, the non-profit did 24 Hours of Strikes, a bowling marathon, raising $90,000. “All my kids were swimmers here at the Y… it seemed like a natural to add a 24-hour swim event to the fundraisers we do each year,” added DiGuido.
“Swimmers range in age from six to senior citizens,” he continued. “Each swimmer had to sign up to swim a 30-minute segment and go get lap sponsors. The goal is to raise $40,000 and we’re well on the way there. Every lap and every dollar counts. We provide toys to over 5,000 children and holiday meals to over 2,500 families.”
John Waesche, of Westport, climbed out of the pool after completing 42 laps. “This is the most laps I’ve ever completed,” he said. “My past best was 30 laps. The incentive was the worthwhile causes that Al’s Angel’s supports.”
Ian Schermann, of Norwalk, had just completed 74 laps. “In the strict time limit of a half hour, I thought I did pretty good,” he said. “I’m an every day swimmer, still this was challenging as you are doing it continuously without stopping. I do two charity swims per year – this is a first for this one. I like the idea of a cause that assists families this way.”
Cheering Schermann on was his wife Katie who said, “He’s got such a good heart in finding worthwhile things to support wherein he can help others. I’m so proud of him.”
Amid cries of “You got it Andrew!” and “C’mon Jack, way to go!” which came from a pack of Norwalk High School lacrosse team players volunteering as timers and cheerleaders, swimmer Caitlin Wiederecht, 18, regained her land legs. “I completed 82 laps,” she said. “I’m proud of myself. I actually had swim practice earlier in addition to this event, so I’ve done a lot of swimming today. I felt good that my efforts were helping a good cause.”
Looking on, Ellen Johnston, Senior Swim Coach at the YMCA and leader of the Water Rats, the Y’s competitive swim team, said, “This event is awesome, a natural partnership, and allows kids to participate. A number of our team members have participated and we’ll have more throughout the day. It’s great for them to know that their sport can support a noble cause.”
Perhaps feeling the impact of the cause more than any onsite was swimmer David Platow, 23, of Westport. “My mom passed away from cancer last September,” he said. “This event is a perfect opportunity for me to help the cause and a way to remember my mom. If she was here, she’d be helping out and swimming herself.”