Countless are the miles Tobey Saracino has logged in the water to fulfill her passion for marathon swimming. The 35-year-old Rye High School graduate continually breaks records in the sport, and has joined elite company by persevering across the 30-mile English Channel and around Manhattan Island’s 28.5-mile perimeter.
When Saracino participated in Swim Across the Sound August 7, however, she wasn’t doing it to etch her name in the record books or accomplish a momentous feat. The swim was about having fun while raising money to support cancer screening, education, support and financial assistance programs at St. Vincent’s Medical Foundation.
“My grandmother survived six types of cancer and, as a child, I watched her go through chemo and radiation,” said Saracino. “It was really hard to understand at such a young age, but the impact of the situation was never lost on me. She was a survivor who taught me strength and determination. My aunt also battled breast cancer and won. Watching these women do something far more courageous than I have ever done definitely gave me inspiration to give back.”
Saracino, a teacher at Edgemont High School and swimming coach at the Greenwich YMCA, said the swim was a smooth one … at least for the first 10 miles. She suffers from seasickness, and had to battle through nausea throughout the final five miles, in addition to some of the roughest water she’s seen this side of the English Channel. Once Saracino made it to the harbor in Bridgeport, though, she was able to use the thought of cancer fighters and survivors as fuel.
“Hands down my favorite part is the finish,” said Saracino. “You take a left-hand turn in between two docks and swim about 200 yards with people lined on both sides cheering you the whole way. When you look up to see all of these people, you can’t help but get choked up!
“Walking up the plank, the first folks you see are the volunteers,” she continued. “Most of the volunteers are either cancer survivors or are still battling cancer, and every time I finish I feel like I have made a small difference. The entire finish is just so overwhelming and incredible.”
Saracino was recently invited to swim around Manhattan September 10, along with two professional male open water swimmers – Bulgarian Olympian Petar Stoychev and Mark Warkentin – as well as Rondi Davies, an elite amateur. All will be looking to break the 5-hour, 45-minute record held by Shelly Taylor-Smith. The swim will start around 2 or 3 p.m., and the participants expect to make the turn around the bottom of the island during sunset.
“There’s nothing like swimming in the rip-roaring currents of the East River in the dark,” said Saracino enthusiastically.
Saracino also wants to swim the Catalina Channel off Los Angeles next summer. If she can successfully navigate its 28-plus miles, Saracino will join only 39 others worldwide who have attained open water’s Triple Crown (English Channel, Manhattan Island and Catalina Channel).
“The water is cold, the air is cold and if you are afraid of sharks, this is not the swim for you,” she said. “I was assisting a friend trying to beat Catalina recently, and we were followed by a either Bull or Tiger shark for about ten minutes. As we were swimming I saw the entire crew run to the back of the boat with binoculars. I knew right away it was a shark because nobody had that reaction to the dolphins that were swimming with us.”
That would be enough to scare most from the water, but not this bold aquanaut.