Friday, July 27, 2012
Siblings swim in memory of their late father
Photos courtesy of Mary Lou Gaffney
A group gets ready to take off for an island across from Smith Mountain Dam.
This year, 11 swimmers participated in the William B. Mezick Memorial Swim.
It's become an annual event of summer: Four siblings get together for organized swims in memory of their late father, who taught them to swim.
Mary Lou Gaffney, 50, said she doesn't remember her dad leading a group swim to an island when the children were young, but her older siblings do.
"They remember being on vacation in Maine and swimming to an island with my dad," she said.
For eight years, the siblings and extended family have gotten together at Gaffney's lake house in the Mountain View Shores community at Smith Mountain Lake. Each year, they swim together to a small island near Smith Mountain Dam.
After their father died three years ago at age 84, they decided to combine a swim to the shores of Smith Mountain with the island swim in his memory. Gaffney said no one knows the names of the island they have targeted, but they call the swims the William B. Mezick Memorial.
Eleven swimmers made the swims last weekend.
The two-mile, hour-and-a- half swim to Smith Mountain takes place in the morning when the water is calm. The swimmers warm up days before by swimming to the smaller island. That takes about 20 minutes.
Gaffney's older sister, Cathy Geis, 60, said for her, the swim is a stress test.
"I tell people if I can do it without chest pain or shortness of breath, I don't need to see a cardiologist," Geis said.
As a safety measure, a family member rides a Wave Runner, following the swimmers with life jackets in case someone becomes too weary.
"My siblings and I are physically fit and active, and no one considers the swim a huge undertaking, " Geis added.
Gaffney's older sister, Barbara Gibson, 56, who power walks 50 minutes four days a week, said the tips from her father come in handy.
"He would always say extend your arms out, and you'll be in a better rhythm," Gibson recalled. "And 'remember to kick your feet,' he'd say."
And although their father no longer sits on the dock cheering them on as he once did, that hasn't stopped them from enjoying the lake.
"We've been here every year since they've had the lake house," Geis said. "It's very peaceful and restful."
Gaffney and her siblings are not the only ones who enjoy the swims. Over the years, extended family - in-laws, cousins, nieces, nephews - and friends have participated. So far, the youngest participant has been Gibson's 12-year-old niece.
Gaffney said that there are no rules and noodles and flippers are not discouraged. Speed is not a factor.
"It's a challenge and something to strive for and succeed at," Gaffney said. "We only swim as fast as the slowest swimmer."