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Clam shuckers compete in breast cancer charity event on Fire Island

John Senft, of West Islip, took home the

John Senft, of West Islip, took home the trophy for shucking 50 clams in 3 minutes, 55 seconds on Aug. 14, 2012, during the 18th Annual Henry Gates Clam Shucking Fundraiser in Kismet. Credit: Erin Geismar

Bill Peet walked around the Surf’s Out restaurant in Kismet on Tuesday with a clam knife tucked discreetly in the pocket of his khaki shorts.

It was his first time competing in a clam shucking contest, and though experienced, he wasn’t taking any chances.

“Who knows what was going to be here?” he said. “What if they gave us spoons?”

Peet, who lives in New Jersey and is the chef at a restaurant in Manhattan, was visiting friends on Fire Island when he heard about the clam shucking competition, sponsored by the West Islip Breast Cancer Coalition, and decided to join in.

Unfortunately for the chef, neither his experience working with seafood in the kitchen or having his own tool led him to victory.

Sixteen people competed in the 18th Annual Henry Gates Clam Shucking Contest, each shucking 50 clams while being timed. Those who cut themselves were disqualified and led to medics, and penalties were given for clams that were still attached to their shells.

In the end, John Senft, 59, of West Islip, completed the task error-free in 3:35 minutes, winning bragging rights, a gift certificate to Surf’s Out, and his name engraved on the competition trophy. He said he also won the competition in one of its earlier years.

“I love doing it, it’s a great event and it’s for a good cause,” said Senft, who sells fish and crabs out of West Islip under the name Johnny Crab.

The competition was the main attraction of an all-day event outside the restaurant, which raised money for the coalition’s “Lend A Helping Hand” program.

Margaret Campise, president of the coalition, said the program provides resources for Long Island women and men with breast cancer, including wigs, transportation and help with medical costs.

Last year’s event raised about $60,000, and Campise said she hoped this year would top that.

Hundreds of people attended, browsing through the more than 150 baskets up for auction and snacking on barbecue fare, lobster and clams. All of the items for auction were donated, as was the food, space and staff from Surf’s Out, so all of the proceeds go directly to the cause.

“It’s just amazing how sensitive everybody is to breast cancer,” Campise said. “They open up their hearts and donate to us so we can raise money.”

Joanne Marquardt, of North Babylon, attended Tuesday’s event as an eight-year breast cancer survivor, a member of the West Islip Breast Cancer Coalition, and also a consumer advocate for the U.S. Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program.

She was collecting signatures on a petition to be sent to the White House to set a 2020 deadline for ending breast cancer by focusing on a vaccine and other prevention methods.

“People have been very enthusiastic, but they don’t know about the deadline,” said Marquardt, whose daughter is also a breast cancer survivor. “It’s just awesome that people come out. We need to end the disease, we really do.”

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