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Swimming in the deep

Swim Across America participants swim near dolphins at Clearwater Beach.

Jim Damaske/tbt*

Swim Across America participants swim near dolphins at Clearwater Beach.

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."

Swim Across America

The event is at 8:30 a.m. at Pier 60 in Clearwater Beach. Proceeds benefit Moffitt Cancer Center. For info, see


Open water safety

Tampa Bay area beaches seldom experience the dangerous rip currents that plague Florida's east coast, but they're not unheard of here. A rip current forms when water brought in by waves rushes back out to sea in a river-like fashion through a channel that runs along a deep spot on the ocean floor. Longshore currents are a more common threat on the west coast of Florida. These occur during winter cold fronts and summer tropical storms and run parallel to shore. They sometimes are strong enough to knock an adult off his feet. Some tips for dealing with rip or longshore currents:

If you are caught in a rip, don't fight it. Swim parallel to shore until you feel the current slack. Then swim into the beach.

Swim near a lifeguard. If no lifeguard is on duty, think twice about entering the water on a rough day if you're not an experienced swimmer.

Open-water swimmers should keep an eye out for boats and personal watercraft. Most local beaches have a clearly marked Safe Bathing Limit (SBL). Stay inside the buoys.

Wear a bright swim cap if you're doing an open-water swim near a lot of personal watercraft.

Swim with a partner — there is safety in numbers. Never swim alone.

If possible, train on a beach that is patrolled.

Swim parallel to the shore.

Though the chances are slim, open-water swimmers occasionally do get attacked by sharks. To lower the risk, don't swim at dawn or dusk. Avoid murky water and swimming near passes or inlets. While sharks are a real threat in all Florida waters, you are more likely to step on a stingray or be stung by a jellyfish.

Swimming in the deep 05/16/13 [Last modified: Thursday, May 16, 2013 1:02am]
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