ITHACA, N.Y.—More than 300 participants will swim 1.2 miles across Cayuga Lake later this summer as Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare returns with its community event raising money for bereavement and end-of-life care.

Like everything else that was canceled or postponed in 2020 due to COVID-19, Women Swimmin’ has not held its normal community event since 2019, instead using a “Go the Distance” version of fundraising that allowed people to participate and raise money while maintaining social distance and taking part in a variety of activities, like swimming, walking, running, hiking, biking or knitting for charity.

Though it is an event where participants swim a designated distance, the event is not a competitive race, but rather a gathering of love and support for the community to honor lost loved ones.

Participants must qualify with a $300 fundraising goal minimum, but many people go above that goal and raise thousands of dollars for the organization. In 2021, 429 participants raised $465,254.

The large gathering event is returning this year to Cayuga Lake, but the Go the Distance option is still available leading up to the Aug. 13 formal event where participants splash into the lake from the Ithaca Yacht Club to swim.

Sara Worden, director of development and community relations at Hospicare, said that bringing the community of supporters together at the event is one way to honor the memory of lost loved ones. “It really is a beautiful way to come together around loss but still celebrate life,” she said.

One of the traditions is for participants to write names of lost loved ones on their arms before beginning their swim.

“A whole bunch of women of all ages in their bathing suits, launching out together, is meaningful — but when you add in the reasons that individual people have for doing it, I think that’s what makes it so special, the marriage of those two things,” said Emily Hopkins, outreach and development manager of Hospicare.

The dynamic event encompasses not only the swimmers, but also supporters who watch from shore and boaters who direct and support the swimmers as needed. “We have a great group of dedicated volunteers who come back year after year and have really helped steward this event from its early days […] to what it is today,” Worden said.

The funds raised each year go directly to Hospicare & Palliative Care Services in Ithaca, which provides compassionate end-of-life care to both inpatient and outpatient individuals, as well as grief and bereavement care and counseling for family members and the Ithaca community at large for free.

Several local companies including the Maguire Family of Dealerships, Guthrie Medical and Cayuga Medical Center make large donations to cover costs of putting on the swimming event itself so that all funds raised can go toward the care Hospicare provides.

Registration for the swim in August can be found here, as well as more information on the event and organization.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...