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Swim Across America visits aquatic center

Colette Debenedittis, 11, of Manhasset, participates in the

Colette Debenedittis, 11, of Manhasset, participates in the Nassau County Swim Across America event to raise awareness and funds for cancer research, prevention and treatment, and Long Island Sports Challenge, a contest from Team Up for Community and Bethpage Federal Credit Union that encourages community service among Long Island student athletes and awards $5,000 in sports grants. (July 25, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Jessica Rotkiewicz

After five consecutive years of raising at least $20,000 for cancer related charities, Kurt Kiess hardly even has to ask anymore. His friends, family and colleagues know that come summer, Kiess will be swimming to raise money.

“It’s a good cause because everybody knows someone who has suffered or died from cancer,” Kiess, a 48-year-old accountant, said of Swim Across America, a national nonprofit group that organizes events at which participants swim to raise money for cancer research. Long Island swimmers participated in an annual Swim Across America benefit at the Nassau County Aquatic Center in Eisenhower Park Wednesday.

Those who sponsored Kiess this year certainly got their money’s worth; the lifelong Manhasset resident was in the water for nearly two hours, swimming 5 kilometers, or 3.1 miles. Kiess was joined by his son Ryan, 16, his daughter Kimberly, 13, and more than 50 other swimmers.

Pam Danbusky, a local organizer for Swim Across America, said this year swimmers netted $45,000, which will go to groups such as the Feinstein Institute of North Shore LIJ, Mercy Medical Center, Fighting Chance and others.

Attending the event was Janel Jorgensen McArdle, the executive director of Swim Across America, who also won a silver medal swimming for the United States in the 1988 Olympics. Because of her past success in swimming, Jorgensen said she was drawn to this particular charity.

“I can give back to a sport that was really great to me,” she said. “I feel blessed to have my job.”

As part of her job, Jorgensen travels around the country most of the summer, providing support at as many events as she is able to attend. She said her goal is to eventually have events in all 50 states, and Swim Across America is about halfway to that goal. Currently, the charity hosts 17 open water swims and hundreds of indoor pool swims each year. The charity has raised more than $45 million in its 25-year history.

The Eisenhower Park indoor swim is one of three large Swim Across America events each summer on Long Island, the other two being open-water swims. One of the open water swims took place July 7 in the Hamptons, with proceeds totaling $125,000. The largest of the three events, an open-water swim in the Long Island Sound at Morgan Park in Glen Cove, will take place Aug. 11.

Wednesday’s event, which has gone on since 2002, was joined by a new event called the Long Island Sports Challenge. The program gives local youth sports teams the opportunity to win grant money. Steve Webb, a former NHL player with the Islanders, and his wife, Teresa, organized the challenge, which invites teams to create short videos about how they give back to their communities. Swim Across America teams yesterday were encouraged to submit videos through the July 31 deadline.

“We’re hoping to create a chain reaction,” said Steve Webb. “If you want to be an athlete someday, then part of your responsibility is to have a positive impact on the community.”

To learn more about the Long Island Sports Challenge, visit teamup4community.org. For more about Swim Across America, visit swimacrossamerica.org.

Above: Colette Debenedittis, 11, of Manhasset, participates in the Nassau County Swim Across America event. (July 25, 2012)

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