Jim Sirignano considers himself a pretty good athlete. A former college football player, he's the strong, confident type, always ready for any kind of physical challenge.
But when it comes to mental toughness, he said he is a lightweight compared to his brother Paul, who died 2½ years ago after a long battle with cancer.
"He had such courage and determination," explained the 50-year-old Clearwater man. "He never gave up."
Sirignano wished he could have shared his brother's burden. But when a friend told him about an open-water swim to raise money for cancer research, he knew he'd found something he could do. The concept was simple. Each swimmer pledges to raise a specified amount of money for a designated charity, then they pile in a boat, get dropped off in the middle of the ocean and then swim for shore.
Sirignano drew strength from those around him. He emerged from the water feeling glad to have been a part of something big.
"That was my first Swim Across America event," he said. "I have done one every year since."
The national, nonprofit organization dedicated to raising money and awareness for cancer research, prevention and treatment now holds events in more than a dozen cities, including Clearwater Beach.
Since the first swim off Nantucket Island in 1987, Swim Across America has raised more than $45 million for charity. Last year's inaugural Clearwater event raised more than $100,000 for the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and organizers hope to double that amount this year.
Swimmers have three distances to choose from: half-mile, 1-mile and the new "Ironman" distance of 2.4 miles. Participants can swim as individuals or as part of a team in honor of friends and loved ones, who have fought, or who are fighting, cancer
"If you haven't signed up, you can still come out on race day," said Joseph Gallina, a spokesman for the swim. "Walk-ups are welcome."