Swimmers from a previous Park to Park Open Swim event. Photo courtesy Aileen Kelly

Swimmers from a previous Park to Park Open Swim event. Photo courtesy Aileen Kelly

Charity swim event hits Kirkland this weekend

The Park to Park Open Swim benefits Seattle Children’s Hospital.

The Park to Park Open Swim event is hitting Kirkland this weekend.

The annual event, which is set for Aug. 25, was founded in 2005 by community member Annie Thorgrimson and benefits Seattle Children’s Hospital. Since its inception, it has raised a little more than $265,000 for the Emergency Patient Assistance Fund at Seattle Children’s, which allows social workers affiliated with the hospital to support families in need of essential items like food, transportation and shelter.

The proceeds assist up to 2,000 families annually.

Thorgrimson started Park to Park Open Swim initially as a simple “friends and neighbors”-style gathering. But the response to it made it clear that the event could be more than that.

“They decided, ‘This is so fun,’ why don’t we do this for charity?’” Aileen Kelly, executive director of the Swim for Children’s Guild, said.

Kelly estimates that about $3,000 was raised in the first year — a small number in comparison to the $50,000 accumulated in 2018.

Thorgrimson headed the community swim for several years. But eventually she decided that she wanted to give the event, as described by Kelly, back to Seattle Children’s and find another guild to run it.

That’s how the Swim for Children’s Guild was formed.

“We didn’t want to see it go away,” Wendy Funicello,compliance and guild projects manager for the organization, said.

There are about a dozen members in the group. The mixture of men and women take on different roles: volunteers coordinator, graphic designer, treasurer and others.

Kelly said planning for Park to Park typically begins in January, with three to four meetings occurring before the gathering actually happens in August.

The premise of the event is simple. Interested residents choose to swim one of two offered Lake Washington routes, with their registration fees going to the fund.

There is a classic route, which is a 1.3-miles-long swim that commences at Seattle’s Matthews Beach and ends at Kirkland’s O.O. Denny Park. Though the course is intended for strong swimmers, and for people who can finish it up in less than 90 minutes, the classic is non-competitive and meant to be “fun,” as stated on its website.

The double-dip route, in contrast, presents a challenge. Although it covers the same area as the classic route, and also is non-competitive, it is a round-trip expedition that begins at 7:30 a.m. About 2.5 miles long, it begins at O.O. Denny Park, has swimmers touch on Matthews Beach as a midpoint and then ends back at the Kirkland location.

It is expected that those who register for the double-dip get to the Matthews checkpoint in 45 minutes. Otherwise, there’s a chance they will be pulled from the water.

Anyone who finishes either route is provided coffee and breakfast at O.O. Denny Park. Currently, the entry fees for the classic and double-dip routes are, respectively, $95 and $110.

All registrations, which include transportation, a swim cap, a T-shirt, chip timing and a victory breakfast, are final. Participants must be at least 14 years old.

Kelly said it’s not too late to lend a hand even if people aren’t looking to swim. The event’s coordinators are still looking for on-the-water volunteers like kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders and land volunteers to help with the clothing check, cheering and hot breakfast at O.O. Denny Park.

“The guild is grateful for the years of support from the volunteers and the donors,” Kelly said. “Without that support from the community, we couldn’t do it at all.”

Funicello is always dazzled by the people who come to the event.

“It is unbelievable and amazing to see 300 people standing on a shoreline with their swim gear who are going to get into the water at 7:30 in the morning and swim across Lake Washington,” she said.

Funicello added that she’s amazed by the effort that goes into making the swim a fun and safe event. She hopes the guild can maintain what’s made the event so successful throughout its run, and specifically singled out the more recent addition of the double-dip as being “wildly successful.”

“When you’re there so early in the morning and the sun’s coming up, you just know it’s going to be a great day,” Funicello said.

“I look forward to the camaraderie and the different friends that come to do it together,” Kelly said. “Everybody’s always in a good mood.”

Though Kelly said that the event has become popular enough to have consistently met its physical capacity, she still wants the event to grow in other ways.

“We hope to continue to grow the event and grow our fundraising dollars,” she said. “The more money we raise, the more families we can help.”

For more information about the event, visit www.parktoparkswim.com.

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