2010-07-01 / Front Page

Circling the island will put swimmer to the test

By Iain Wilson

You can swim around in the waters off Jamestown, or you can try to swim around Conanicut Island.

Ray Gandy will attempt the latter tomorrow.

Tomorrow, Friday, July 2, Gandy will try to circumnavigate the island in water close to 65 degrees – twice. He says the 40- mile trip should take him about 20 hours.

It’s tempting to ask, “Why?”

You might say it’s a love story – for the sport of swimming, but mostly for his wife, Donna.

Gandy, 48, started swimming at the age of seven in St. Albans, W.Va. He continued right through his time at Clarion University. But after watching a 1998 swim across Narragansett Bay, he decided to make the switch from pools to the open sea.

In 2001, he completed his first open water swim.

His stroke has led him across a variety of water bodies, including Lake Champlain, Tampa Bay and Lake Memphremagog in Canada.

None, however, are more astonishing than his trip across the English Channel.

Completing that swim is no small feat, Gandy said.

“The English Channel is the pinnacle of open water swimming,” he said.

Though he was unable to make the 40-mile return trip across the channel, he has an August, 2012 swim scheduled – and, if he does it, looks to be the first person from Rhode Island to complete the swim.

Of his English swim, he said, “I had the right ideas in my mind.”

Though completing a 40-mile swim takes plenty of time and planning, Gandy said this trip is essential for his plans looking forward.

“I need to get a 20-hour swim under my belt,” he said.

This 20-hour swim around Jamestown is what brings Ray, his wife and his daughter to Jamestown from their home on Johnson’s Pond in Coventry.

Gandy plans to arrive at Potter’s Cove around 4 p.m., and will be in the water an hour later. He’ll swim south toward – and then around – Beavertail before heading north.

A support team will follow Gandy during the swim, as he’ll stop every half-hour for a carbohydrate gel that contains highcalorie content and some mouthwash.

“It’s all about energy management,” Gandy said.

If all goes as planned, he’ll return to Potter’s Cove at around 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 3.

“Whether you call them gifts or you call me a crazy man, I feel blessed,” Gandy said, adding that it’s a perspective he gained from his wife’s battle with disease.

In 1992, Gandy’s wife, Donna, was diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. She received a bone marrow transplant, has since recovered and is now a licensed cardiac EMT.

He knows the difficulties associated with disease, and all proceeds in excess of costs from his swim go directly to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

“The swim continues to bring awareness to me and others about the struggles of the disease,” he said, noting that he dedicates the swim to anyone who has come into contact with the disease. The dedication list on his Web site, www.rayswims.com, includes names from across the country.

But the family’s contribution to the fight doesn’t stop with Ray and Donna. Their daughter, Jessica, has served as an intern with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Dana Farber Cancer Research Lab.

The distance of the swim is not the sole reason Gandy chose Conanicut Island for his trip.

“I really wanted to do something here because people have embraced what I’m trying to do,” he said of island residents. “I’ve had a lot of really, really great interactions with the people of Jamestown.”

Jamestowners are invited to Potter’s Cove before, during or after his swim, and Gandy is eager to share his plans and answer questions.

If a monetary donation isn’t possible, Gandy said there’s another simple way to show your support.

“To look over the island at night and see it lit up would really let me know I’m being supported,” he said.

So tomorrow, don’t forget to leave a light on for Ray Gandy.

To make a donation or learn more about Gandy’s swim, visit www.rayswims.com.

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