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Swimmers fundraise for women with cancer; Mills College hosts

Jackie Kennedy

Blue skies and warm, sunny days made for perfect conditions the weekend of Oct. 6 and 7 for the annual Swim A Mile event, which took place on campus at the Mills Aquatic Center.

The fundraiser, organized by the Women’s Cancer Resource Center, an organization based in Oakland, was packed with women and men of all ages. Guests came from throughout the Bay Area to promote awareness and support of women who have been diagnosed with or survived cancer.

Swimmers register online or by mail then raise funds by collecting money upfront or by receiving pledges for a certain length swum. Students participating in the event are required to raise at least $100 in pledges while families are asked to raise at least $500.

“It’s wonderful,” said schoolteacher Joanne Luz, who also swam in the event last year. “The music’s great and everybody’s super positive and I just enjoy helping out.”

Upbeat music soared from sound speakers draped in leopard print as swimmers were cheered on amidst balloons, banners and onlookers made up of loving families and friends. Booths set up on the side of the pool offered free full-body massages and beanie babies while colorful banners custom made by participants carried words of wisdom and messages to family members or friends who have passed from cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 678,060 American women will be diagnosed with some form of cancer this year alone. Swim A Mile has raised 1.63 million dollars since 1995.

Lee Jafran, mother of two and devoted wife, swam at the event for the first time this year. “I was diagnosed with cancer and that motivated me to participate and help out,” said Jafran, whose two young daughters were there to cheer her on throughout the swim.

The WCRC not only attempted to increase the amount of participants and funds donated, but also tried to make the event as green as possible. Peggy McGuire, Executive Director of WCRC, has been with the Center since January 2005.

This weekend marked her third time volunteering at the Swim A Mile. McGuire was in charge of making the event environmentally friendly. “I oversaw the greenery of the event. We’re trying to use less plastic, less paper, get organic food,” McGuire said.

While cancer and eco-responsibility may seem like unrelated concerns, Darlene de Manincor, a member of the Board of Directors, insisted they’re related.

“This year we’re paying attention to the connection between environment and cancer. While there aren’t any studies that show that they are directly linked, there is a suggestion that they could be linked.”

In the past 12 years that it has existed, the Swim A Mile has raised 50 percent of the funds the WCRC needs in order to offer their free programs and services. And their fundraising is all thanks to the swimmers. “It’s been fantastic to be involved. Our biggest money maker was Marty’s Mermaids who raised over 20,000 dollars,” de Manincor said.

If you were looking for the Mermaids, they weren’t difficult to spot. They were a group of women approaching the swim lanes in an array of bright and flashy costumes and red hair. “A woman named Marty was diagnosed with cancer ten years ago.

She began swimming and created a team called Marty’s Mermaids and has been swimming since. Last year she couldn’t be here, she was abroad, so she did her swim in Iceland,” McGuire said.

While some were swimming for their fight with cancer, others swam in honor of passed and cancer-fighting loved ones and got the opportunity to use waterproof body paint on their backs. Looking closely, the writings “In Memory of.” and “We miss you!” were clearly visible in light pink, blue, or yellow on the swimmer’s backs.

With over 400 registered swimmers and McGuire’s estimated guess of 550 total, “This week we might be raising 300 thousand dollars,” McGuire confirmed.

That money will go toward helping people fundraise for their Swim A Mile as well as other services the WCRC offers. 85 percent of this money will go to free peer led programs and services, such as the Betts Program, which,according to their Web site, offers in-home support services for low income women who need practical and emotional support in the Bay Area. Betts volunteers help with daily tasks such as shopping and cleaning as well as emotional support for women with cancer. The other 15 percent goes toward staffing and materials for the Swim A Mile.

Perhaps the generosity of the WCRC is what retains so many volunteers such as Berleena Gullett, who emceed a couple of hours for the event and announced when swimmers had finished their mile and who they were swimming for. She started volunteering in 1995, when she was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma in Situ, a form of breast cancer. Gullett also lost two sisters to cancer and joined the WCRC for support.

Although she didn’t swim this year, she vowed to swim next year. “It’s an amazing organization with a lot of economical support such as helping women get their mammograms for free,” Gullet said.

Berleena remarked on how efficiently the WCRC partnered with other organizations in order to provide services. “It’s an amazing community and it brings people together. There’s nothing like it,” Berleena said.

Some swimmers like sophomore and Crew member Rebecca Waterhouse participated in the event just to support. She swam only 30 laps, but she said she was very tired. “I swam with the swim team [during the Swim A Mile] and that was really great. I’m glad I did it. It was fun,” Waterhouse said.

Beverly Dubrin, a ten-year breast cancer survivor, has been swimming since she was diagnosed. This year was her 10th Swim A Mile. The first time she saw the Swim A Mile, she thought she couldn’t do it because she didn’t like asking people for money. She ended up doing it anyway and was the highest individual fundraiser her first year. She has vowed to do it again ever since.

“The resource center is great. I was lucky enough to have resources but they helped me bring up my awareness about cancer. The Swim A Mile is always beautifully run with a lot of support and I hope they have many, many more in the future,” Dubrin said.