by Jerry Sinnamon
Fred Brooke, Lyme, remains on track to swim across the US-Canadian border in August, 2012 – 10 years after his first “Angel Swim” across Long Island Sound to begin raising money for children with cancer.
This past August, Fred completed the most recent leg in his 850- mile solo charity swim called, Angel Swim New England, after swimming between the Maine cities of Portland and Port Clyde during the period of August 7 – 13.
Swimming about six hours per day for seven straight days takes an emotional and physical toll. “Experts say the daily work is equivalent to participating in 2.5 marathons. Then the work is repeated the next day, and the next, and the next. The ME coast is forbidding and the water gets colder the farther north I go. Even though I require about 12,000 calories a day during the swim, trying to consume that much nutrition becomes quite difficult because I am sick to my stomach most of the time. When the week is over, it feels as if I’ve been physically and emotional beaten up. It takes nearly three weeks after the swim before I start feeling normal again,” Fred says.
After the first, relatively short Angel Swim in 2002, Fred began his quest in 2003 to swim the entire New England coast, from Greenwich to the Canadian border, beginning with the 103 miles of Connecticut coast. In 2004, Fred swam the 50 mile Rhode Island coast and initiated a grueling, Angel Bicycle Ride on Memorial Day weekend, from the northeast corner of CT to Mystic.
The Angel Bicycle Ride is now conducted every year around Memorial Day, followed by a week-long, late summer Angel Swim when Fred completed the Massachusetts coast and is now swimming through ME.
Fred initiated his marathon swimming to raise money for Angela “Angel” Uihlein, Westbrook, who was then 11-years-old and suffering from leukemia. Fred then quickly expanded the program to serve any child in CT suffering cancer to assist with those costs not usually covered by insurance.
Fred estimates he raised about $150,000 with his solo Angel Swim. As the swim’s impact moved out of CT, Fred looked to simplify the distribution of the money he raises by finding partners with the administrative structures to distribute the resources efficiently to the increasing number of children seeking the resources.
Another major shift in Fred’s original program was the addition of the Angel Bicycle Ride in 2004. Starting with about 30 riders in its initial year, the ride attracted 250 bicyclists in 2009, supported by another 250 volunteers.
Fred estimates that the Angel Bicycle Ride since 2004 has generated more than $1 million in contributions for use by CT’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, Ashford.
Most of the time, the satisfaction for Fred during his marathon swim or the bicycle ride is the realization his work is making life a little better for a child with cancer.
“All the young cancer victims I have met remain so strong, so positive, so optimistic in the face of such traumatic circumstances,” Fred says, when explaining why he focused on his charity work. “I guess that was the beginning of it all. These children invited me into their world and I dove in with both feet. Why do I do it, swim the coast of New England? For the same reason we delight in having our presents opened on Christmas morning-it just feels selfishly good to give.”
“I’d like to believe that our organization touches hundreds of people in the same way it touches me. It represents a collective good that focuses its energy on others rather than ourselves. It reminds us of our fragile health while teaching us that hard fought battles can be won. It rewards us with a glow of pride that tantalizes the soul into wanting more.”