Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Sights and Sounds of Swim Day

By Matt Vieira, Social Media and Marketing Manager

I wipe the sleep out of my eyes; it's 3 a.m. on August 13, 2016. Far too early for even Rhode Island's favorite morning companion, Dunkin, to be open. I pack the car and head down to Newport. Today is the best day of the year for a Save The Bayer. It's the day of the #Big40Swim!

As a non-swimmer this year, I had a multitude of land duties. My first task, when arriving on the Newport side of the swim, was to help with the unloading of kayaks. A task that went exceedingly smooth, if I do say so myself...ok, I won't take all the credit, we had some incredible volunteers doing the heavy lifting to make sure kayak unloading and inspection was a success. After all 200-something kayaks were unloaded and inspected, I spun my hat around and got into social media mode. I took to my iPhone to see what was happening on the #Big40Swim hashtag across Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. To my surprise, we had dozens of posts from anxious swimmers ready to get started! In my joyous mood, I generously gave out retweets and continued on to document the start of the Swim.

I grabbed my camera bag from my car, assembled my DSLR and headed out to grab candids from swimmers climbing into the water. The start of the swim, whether freezing my toes off in the water as a swimmer or in my capacity this year as a photo taker, has a joyus feeling in the air. Swimmers are so ready to tackle the Swim that many are seen in the waters of Narragansett Bay an hour before the start.

After the cannon sounds, and the first wave of swimmers takes off for their Jamestown destination, I quickly stop Save The Bay's Periscope feed, pack up my camera, hop in my car and drive over to the finish line in Jamestown. The drive over the bridge is bittersweet. Usually my journey to Jamestown is a little more... well, wet. Hundreds of swimmers charging across the vast East Passage from atop the Pell Bridge is a sight to behold, one I don't usually get to see. It gives me motivation to rejoin the swimmers next year.

Once I reach the finish, I only have minutes before the first swimmers start crossing the finish line. I park my car, jump out with my drone and DSLR and begin my sprint down to the water. Once in the water, I am able to do a little more live streaming as well as congratulate swimmers as they pass me. What an accomplishment for these dedicated athletes!

I have been participating in Swims, either as a swimmer or as a staffer and sometimes a little of both, since 2012. That makes the #Big40Swim my fifth since joining the Save The Bay team. For those not familiar, the Swim consists of 40+ Staff, 500 swimmers, 200 kayakers and around 200 volunteers. With that many moving parts spread across the Bay, at two land locations, and in an auxiliary parking lot, to see it all come together first-hand is amazing. Everyone has a job, and everyone performs their job beyond expectations to create a day that is a celebration of the Narragansett Bay! Everyone from the kayak inspectors to the swimmers getting out of the water in Jamestown are buzzing with excitement the day of the Swim. Everyone rallies around a clean and healthy Bay, but it wasn't always that way.

Yes, the Swim is Save The Bay's largest fundraiser, but at the end of that day, it's much more than that. It's a showcase for a healthy bay. It shows how far the Bay has come since the inception of the Save The Bay Swim 40 years ago. In the early years, swimmers came out of the water covered in oil and tar balls. Now they report seeing fish swimming right below them! Swimmers and kayakers don't just celebrate finishing the 1.7-nautical-mile journey, they celebrate a clean Bay. And over these 40 years, their dedication and determination have made a huge difference. 

For photos from the #Big40Swim visit our Facebook or Flickr page.