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Brightwaters native completes rare 20-mile swim across Catalina Channel

Rachel Griffin, a Brightwaters native, celebrates on the

Rachel Griffin, a Brightwaters native, celebrates on the shore in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., after completing a swim across the Catalina Channel on Friday. Credit: Stan Kurtz

A Brightwaters native completed a rare long-distance swim off the coast of Los Angeles to honor her mother, who died of pancreatic cancer, and to raise money for cancer research.

Rachel Griffin, 40, decided to commemorate the 10th anniversary of her mother’s death by swimming about 20 miles from Santa Catalina Island to the mainland. It took her about 13 hours and 10 minutes to complete the swim and she has since raised more than $38,000 in donations to be split evenly among Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research.

“I figure I’m a healthy, active person that can raise money in this way,” said Griffin, who currently lives in Los Angeles. “I would swim it again backward if it could help anyone who’s fighting this.”

About 500 swimmers have completed the feat alone since the mid-1920s, according to Steve Chase of the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation. The location poses several challenges to swimmers, including unpredictable currents and fluctuating temperatures, said Chase, who watched Griffin on her swim to ensure she complied with the Federation's rules.

He said the event is "arguably one of the most difficult open-water swims in the world" and is considered by some to be more challenging than swimming across the English Channel. 

Griffin said she began training for the event earlier this year by swimming long distances in the ocean or by attaching a parachute to her waist for resistance while swimming in a pool. Last month Griffin competed in a race about 5.5 miles long from Fire Island to Bay Shore.  

Griffin set off from Catalina Island on Thursday, just before midnight. She swam in choppy conditions beside a kayaker, who passed her water and nutrients, and a small boat filled with her friends and family. 

At the start, she distracted herself from the pain — in her rotator cuff and from the jellyfish that would brush past her legs — by thinking of music. But toward the end, Griffin said she became overwhelmed with thoughts of her mother, Patricia Griffin,  a Brightwaters nurse and administrator who worked with the elderly, and her goggles filled with tears.

“She always expected us to do whatever we could to help people in need,” Griffin said. “I think she would have been proud.”

Griffin reached the rocky shore of Terranea Beach in Rancho Palos Verdes at about 1 p.m. Friday on what would have been her mother’s 76th birthday. And with her family beside her, she sang happy birthday to her mother.

“It was just a roller coaster of emotions,” she said. “It was crazy but beautiful.”

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