Category Archives: YMCA

Liz Fry Swims North Channel; Completes Amazing “Ocean 7”

In April, “06880” reported that Liz Fry successfully swam Cook Strait — the dangerous waters separating New Zealand’s North and South Islands.

That meant she had conquered 6 of the 7 major open water swims worldwide. The only one left: the North Channel, between Ireland and Scotland.

Liz Fry

It’s the most challenging of all: very cold, infested with jellyfish, but no wetsuits allowed.

No problem! Last month, Liz — a 1976 Staples High School graduate, longtime Westporter and frequent visitor to the Westport Weston Family YMCA, where she trains — completed the North Channel swim.

She joins a tiny, elite group of men and women who have accomplished all 7 swims.

Here is Liz’s report.

It’s Monday in Donaghadee. The sun is coming out after heavy fog earlier this morning. I went to the starting point at 5:30 a.m., to send off the 4 other swimmers attempting their crossing today.

It’s hard to believe yesterday at 5 a.m. I was scrambling across jagged rocks to find a clear rock to leave from. It was pitch black except for the lights from phones held by the Chunky Dunkers (the group I trained with in Ireland) at the water’s edge to see us off. Quinton, my pilot, has a quick start. You board his boat, and in 15 minutes you are in the water.

Liz Fry (2nd from left) with her crew in Donaghadee harbor.

My crew was incredibly efficient putting on sunscreen and “butt paste” for chaffing. Next thing I knew my cap, earplugs and goggles were on. I jumped in the cold abyss.

I followed the lights on shore and spotlight and managed to avoid many of the sharp rocks, although one got me good. I found a rock that was clear and raised my hand, signaling the start.

It was still very dark. Unfortunately my first hit in a Lion’s Mane jellyfish bloom was in the first 10 minutes. My whole left side took multiple hits as I swam through tentacles, but luckily only one hit across my face.

I felt like Harry Potter. I felt these stings the whole swim, but the pain subsided to tolerable fairly quickly. Salt water is the best medicine. I knew it was only the beginning so I had to keep my head together.

A swarm of jellyfish.

I had my first feed after 1 hour, which is my typical feed schedule.  I don’t usually feed well as I am a sinker and struggle to stay above water. However, with the water so cold (12-14 C) we planned to go with 45 minutes after the first feed.

Calories intake were critical. I asked for and received a lot of advice from North Channel swimmers all over the world. I used all I could remember.

With daylight, my crew helped me navigate around the lion’s manes. Several times when I tried to follow, each person on the boat pointed in a different direction.

The jellies were moving towards me faster than I could swim out of the way, or the blooms were so big there was nothing they could do to help. I slowly slid between the jellies and long tentacles as best I could. My crew was brilliant and saved me from so many hits.

About 5 hours in, the impact of the jelly hits affected my breathing. My inhaler for my asthma provided some relief initially. but later did not help. I could not help to think about Attila who spent nearly 3 weeks in the hospital after his attempt last year.

I stayed close to the boat, just in view of Quinton and the observer who never stopped watching me.

Despite the breathing issue I felt very good. My spirits were great, I wasn’t cold, and my crew was brilliant. At 12:30 we saw the lighthouse. Nora kept the whiteboard filled with well wishes from around the world, from friends and family. This is the first time I have had active whiteboard. It was fantastic.

I am happy she didn’t mention the shark fin they saw around 2:30 p.m. It was likely a basking shark — the second largest, but not a carnivore.  At my 2 p.m. feed Quinton said, “at this pace we’ll be done in two hours.”

With 2 miles to go, a thick fog rolled in. I could no longer see Scotland or the two boats behind us for a few minutes. The only thing the crew could see was the lighthouse, and hear the foghorn.

The fog lifted above the shore, and I saw where Quinton was trying to land me.  I hit the rocks on the shore of Scotland and raised my hands to the sound of the horn. I finished: 11 hours, 13 minutes.

Liz Fry nears the Scottish coast.

As I swam back to the boat, I could only think about how many people helped get me to those rocks. Not just the 6 oceans before, but all the swims and training sessions. I am so grateful to each and every one of you for your support.

To say the ride back to Ireland was full of exuberance is an understatement. Even now it is still surreal.

We arrived back to a large welcome crowd of Chunky Dunkers, who had a beautiful blue cake with the number 7 candle. It was fantastic!

After the swim, Liz reported:

All the Channel swimmers I spoke to said my sleep the night after would be restless, due to the jelly fish stings. They were right!

Despite more antihistamines, the stings fired through the night. I burned up one moment; the next I was freezing cold.

It helped that as soon as I got on the boat, I was covered with shaving cream and scraped with credit cards (expired) to remove the barbs and tentacles from my skin.

No words can express my deep love and gratitude for all who traveled to Ireland to support me in this craziness.

It is impossible for me to adequately thank my family, friends and swimming community that supported me, at home and around the world.

Liz Fry (right) and her sister Peggy, a 1975 Staples High School graduate, at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.

Every swim has its own level of stress and emotions, but none more than this.

I was terrified, seriously questioning whether even if I could tolerate the cold, would I endure the venom of the Lion’s Manes and other jellyfish?

I did everything I could to prepare for the worst, but still feared that this last Ocean 7 swim could be truly my last. This fear went away soon after I arrived in Donaghadee, not because the threat was no longer there but because my swims in the harbor calmed my anxiety and brought happiness.

I feel so blessed to have swum the North Channel. So the question always is: “Would I do it again?”

I think my next big swims are to complete the Great Lakes. I’d like to start next summer.

(Hat tip: Debbie McGinley)

Westport: The Write Place

The statistics are in: 18 iconic Westport locations. Six library spots. Six pick-your-own-spots. All told, 250 “writes” during last month’s Write Here project.

Jan Bassin

Led by Jan Bassin — Senior Center coordinator of writing programs, and the Westport Library’s Maker-in-Residence — each hour-long session began with a brief introduction. After a prompt, Westporters of all ages, abilities and backgrounds began writing. At the end, volunteers shared their creations.

The proudest — or bravest — uploaded their writing to a dedicated website.

But those dry facts don’t come close to telling the whole “story.”

Like many participants, Bassin knew some of the writing locations well. In her case it was the Senior Center, Westport Country Playhouse, Compo Beach, Wakeman Town Farm, Levitt Pavilion and Farmers’ Market.

Others she hadn’t visited or thought about in years: Earthplace, Rolnick Observatory, Westport Historical Society.

She’d been to Toquet Hall only once; the Westport Weston Family YMCA and Ned Dimes Marina never. She had no idea where to find the police station entrance.

Writing at Earthplace …

Jan was excited to “discover” those new places. But just as intriguing was the chance to look at familiar places with new eyes: the Town Hall lobby, for example, and train station.

She realized too that classrooms at fire and police headquarters, picnic tables at Longshore and chairs under a tree at the Farmers’ Market were as exciting as the more “sparkly” venues.

Each site brought new revelations. Jan and her group sat spellbound as Nick Marsan described his circuitous, unexpected route to becoming a firefighter; Sue Pfister spoke of shifting her focus from business to social work, then finding a population where she could help; Lori Cochran-Dougall shared her passion for sustainability; Carleigh Welsh offered her heartfelt philosophy about the importance of the arts, and Shannon Calvert showed photos of the universe taken at the observatory.

… the Westport Country Playhouse …

Each visit, Jan says, “felt like a private and special writing party.” Everyone at every site treated the writers as special guests.

At the end of each talk, she guided the group into “feeling” the place they were in. The writing that followed was “amazing.”

It was “beautiful, connected and gorgeous” — even from people who insisted, “I don’t write.”

When she designed the month, Jan did not expect to be as moved as she was, every single day. “People’s voices and stories still play in my head,” she says with awe.

… and the Westport Farmers’ Market.

The project was as much about “place” as about words. “We can’t actually think of ourselves at any point in our lives without remembering where we were,” she notes.

“By writing together in a series of places in our town, we ask: What makes a community?”

The answer, it turns out, is write right here.

(Click here to read the writing posted to the Write Here website.)

Pics Of The Day #854

Yesterday, Patty Kondub held her last outdoor Aqua Fitness class ever at the old Camp Mahackeno pool.

It will be open for only a few more days.  Then camp is over, the Y closes for cleaning, a groundbreaking ceremony will be held, bulldozers move in, and a big new complex will be built.

Kathie Motes Bennewitz says she’ll miss it. The pool reminds her of when she first moved here in the late 1970s.

In honor of the last session, she and her Aqua Fitness classmates tried to spell “YMCA” with their noodles (front).

Meanwhile, she wonders if “no chicken fights” will make it onto the new rule board next summer.

(Photos/Kathie Motes Bennewitz)

Unsung Hero #111

Ruth Sherman walks the walk.

Literally.

Every day for 50 years — in all kinds of weather* — Ruth has walked from Hillspoint Road to the top of Compo Hill.

She recently returned from Spain, where she completed the 100-mile El Camino spiritual trek.

For the 79-year-old longtime Westporter, it was no big deal.

Ruth Sherman

Yet Ruth’s walks are only part of her daily routine. Since the 1960s, she’s taught exercise and fitness at the Westport Weston Family Y. Right now she’s with the Arthritis Foundation Family aquatic program.

When the Senior Center opened, she began teaching there too.

Many class members are younger — often much younger — than Ruth. But they struggle to keep pace.

When she’s not walking or leading classes, Ruth bikes. Of course, her rides are for good causes.

Since last century, she’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, in the Pan-Mass Challenge. She was not always alone: Sometimes she was joined by her husband Larry, 4 children, in-laws and friends. Her group was called Ruthie’s Riding Rascals.

You’ve probably seen Ruth Sherman around town. The next time you see her, say hello — and congratulate her for being this week’s Unsung Hero.

But you’ll have to be in pretty good shape to catch up.

*And in Westport, you know what that means.

(Hat tip: Richard Fogel)

Mystery On The Merritt

Anyone who has visited the Westport Weston Family Y — or zoomed past Exit 41 on the Merritt Parkway — has seen the activity.

Every few days — because you don’t expect highway work to happen consistently — earth movers rumble to life.

They take mounds of dirt, and shift them from here to there. They do the same with boulders. They dig up some spots, flatten others. They look like they’re doing something.

But that sorry stretch of land, hemmed in by the road on one side and a forlorn fence on the other, also always looks the same. What exactly has been done there over the past few months?

Besides making the northbound entrance one of the scariest pieces of roadway in the history of transportation?

(Photo/David Meth)

Fire Department Says: Keep Cool!

With the hottest temperatures of the year predicted for this weekend — and heat indexes well over 100 degrees — the Westport Fire Department sends this alert:

The Town of Westport reminds residents of health and safety measures to protect against heat-related illnesses, and to take special care of young children, seniors and other at-risk populations:

  • Find air conditioning, if possible
  • Check on family members and neighbors
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Avoid strenuous activities
  • Watch for heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke
  • Never leave people or pets in a closed car
  • Watch for heat illness
  • Wear light clothing.

The following cooling centers are open to the public this weekend:

  • The Senior Center, 21 Imperial Avenue (Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
  • Westport Library, 20 Jesup Road (Friday 9 a.m. to 6 6 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m.
  • Westport Weston Family Y, 14 Allen Raymond Lane, lobby open to public (Friday 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Sunday 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.).

The Fire Department will update their Facebook page with new openings and/or changes.

Click here for a link to the 2-1-1 “Extreme Heat Protocols” website.

One other way to keep cool: Elvira Mae’s ice cream window. (Photo/Robin Tauck)

Y’s Men: Memorial Day Floats Their Boat

No, the fix is not in.

The Y’s Men are just that good.

Every year since Edward T. Bedford built the Westport YMCA*, the gung-ho group of nearly 400 retired and semi-retired men has won the Memorial Day Best Float competition.

The tradition continued this year.

The 2019 parade theme was “Thank a Veteran.” The Y’s Men took it one step further, thanking Merchant Marines — the “unsung heroes” of World War II — for their service.

If you were at the parade, you know how great the float was.

If you weren’t, you missed another great tribute, from men who are members of — or close to — the Greatest Generation.

Whether you were there or not, enjoy this video, created by Y’s Man Sal Mollica. It’s a quick look at the float’s creators, its construction, and the proud part it played in Westport’s Memorial Day parade.

*Or maybe it just seems that way.

Unsung Heroes #100

Little things mean a lot.

A you-go-first wave from another driver at the intersection. The guy in the supermarket parking lot who offers to take your cart back to the store. The out-of-the-blue call from a teacher to say how proud she is of your kid.

Those are the random human encounters that make us smile, and lighten our step. They make our day.

Then there are the little things that make every day.

Like the front desk folks at the Westport Weston Family Y. They’re there at 5:30 a.m., when the first commuters race past. They’re there at 10 p.m., when the last laggards leave.

A constant parade passes by. Women rush in, late for their spin class. Kids forget their passes. Men call from the locker room, needing help opening their locker because the idiotic lock jammed again.

They answer phones. They remind people — gently — that their membership has lapsed. And over and over and over again, they check people in.

A typical scene at the Westport Weston Family YMCA front desk.

They do it all with smiles, courtesy, and uncommon grace. Often, they go the extra mile.

They dig into their own pockets to refund money if the vending machine failed. They lend umbrellas to folks who forgot theirs. They call people at home, telling them their credit card was found, and turned in.

They greet us when we arrive. They thank us when we leave. They seem genuinely pleased to see us.

I’m not always in a good mood when I walk into the Y. I may have had a bad day. Someone may have shot into the parking space I was waiting for. I may not look forward to swimming for 45 minutes, back and forth in the pool.

But I’m certainly in a better mood after checking in at their desk. And I’m in a great mood when I leave.

So thanks, all you front desk folks at the Westport Y. I won’t list names, because I’d miss someone.

But you know all our names. That’s one more reason you’re our Unsung Heroes this week.

We Remember: Memorial Day 2019, Part 1

Today’s Memorial Day parade was the first in several years with beautiful weather.

Nearly everyone marched: police, firefighters, non-profit organizations, youth teams, Scouts, Suzuki violinists, a random pediatric dentist.

As usual — and as always deserved — the Y’s Men won the Best Float competition.

Here are a few scenes from today’s parade. More — plus images from the post-parade ceremony on Veterans Green  — will be posted later today.

The start of the route, on Riverside Avenue, was swimming with Westport YMCA Water Rats. (Photo/Jodi Harris)

It doesn’t get more classic than this. (Photo/Doris Ghitelman)

Alex Merton — almost 3 — is captivated by a fife and drum corps. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

The theme of the parade was “Thank a Veteran.” This vet received many thanks … (Photo/Beth Devoll)

… as did this veteran … (Photo/Doris Ghitelman)

… and this. (Photo/Doris Ghitelman)

Page Englehart gives the thumb’s up to a float honoring servicemenbers. Her son Williiam — a Staples High School 2014 graduate — is in the Marine Corps. (Photo/Anne Hardy)

Suzuki violinists played “Turkey in the Straw.” (Photo/Burton Stuttman)

A Myrtle Avenue home honors the holiday. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Police Chief Foti Koskinas greets a young fan on the parade route. (Photo/Marshall Kiev)

Patriot and noted artist Miggs Burroughs marches with the Westport flag — designed, for Westport’s 150th birthday in 1986, by himself. (Photo/Beth Devoll)

The red, white and blue was evident in flags … (Photo/Doris Ghitelman)

… and everywhere else. This is RTM member Andrew Colabella.

Quite An Experience!

Experience Camp — the life-changing summer program for youngsters who have lost a parent or sibling, based in Westport and directed by our neighbor Sara Deren — held its 2nd annual Day of Champions yesterday, at Camp Mahackeno.

Over 450 kids and volunteers had an amazing time. And, amazingly, they raised over $183,000 for this great cause.

Here’s how they did it.

(Photos/Stephen Dodd)