By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Northborough – Jean Cahill of Northborough recently participated in her first Swim Across America (SAA) on July 12. Also known as the Boston Harbor Open Water Swim, the fundraiser is a 22-mile relay to benefit the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Mass. General Hospital for Children.
“There was weather on July 12; the event was almost cancelled because thunderstorms were forecasted,” Cahill said, adding that she experienced conditions ranging from fog and mist to clear sky within the span of the relay.
The relay swim began and concluded at Rowes Wharf. Each participant swam in a 15-minute heat about four to six times throughout the day.
It was quite the experience for Cahill because unbeknownst to her, she swam with Olympians collegiate level and competitive long-distance swimmers. Cahill has had experience with swimming in open water, but this was her first-time swimming in Boston Harbor.
When asked what attracted her to this ambitious endeavor, she said, “I was interested in finding out more about open water swimming because it’s a growing interest of mine. I came across this Swim Across America event and thought it kind of combined everything I care about and wanted to participate in which is to find a group of people who shared the same passion for swimming.”
She said that the one in Boston was fundraising for two different cancer treatment centers that she supports – Dana-Farber and the Children’s Pediatric Oncology unit at Mass. General.
These connected back to her past as an environmental science graduate student at the University of Mass.-Boston. Part of her research involved studying pollutants associated with cancers that were showing up in fish in Boston Harbor.
Cahill has seen how much Boston has changed through massive public investment, the Big Dig and the clean-up of the harbor .
“I’m just shocked every time I go there and I see there is no longer milky and opaque water covered with brown film and trash. It looks kind of inviting and healthy…,” Cahill explained.
“The correspondence between my past of working in cancer initiation research and in seeing the public health benefits of a cleaner harbor were just like all these factors that coalesced…I think this will be a really good match.”
Cahill is now a consulting environmental and human health toxicologist and works on contaminated oil and gas sites in the region assessing health risks. She is also a member of Sustainable Northborough and most recently played a leadership role in the plastic bag and polystyrene reduction citizen petitions that passed at the Annual Town Meeting in April.
To her, the event was a perfect combination of her passions.
“It was a fun day of just being in the water and meeting new people,” Cahill noted. “A ceremony followed celebrating successes and highlighting the challenges of cancer therapy, and acknowledged with great appreciation the donors, organizers, volunteers and participants for helping advance research and cancer treatment.”
For more information about Swim Across America Boston, visit www.swimacrossamerica.org.