The annual open water race now known as The Maggie Fischer Memorial Great South Bay Cross Bay Swim is all set for Friday, July 14.
This year’s race will feature a special honoree named Gary Smith, who is a Bay Shore resident that won the race 61 years ago.
“Every year we try to recognize someone that is involved with the swim and has done great for the community,” said Rob Roos, the race’s historian.
Flash back to summer 1956, Smith — a three sport athlete at Bay Shore High School — jumped into the Great South Bay at 10:20 a.m. with 10 other participants for a 6.9-mile trek.
After nearly 3 hours and 15 minutes of swimming, the 17-year-old president of his student government was the first to reach Brightwaters Beach.
There, he was celebrated by the community.
“A proud day for Gary… and a proud day for Bay Shore,” read the then-popular newspaper, the Bay Shore Sentinel.
“[Smith] is the type of gentlemen that has given back in many ways,” says Roos.
After high school, Smith headed to Siena College, where he starred on the upstate school’s basketball team.
Following school, he went off to the Vietnam War, where he was a captain and earned a Purple Heart. Smith later became a New York State trooper and continued to stay active in the Bay Shore community. He was named as grand marshal of Bay Shore’s St. Patrick’s Day parade and served or worked with many local and regional organizations.
“Gary is a great member of the community,” said Roos. “He’s a good all around guy who gave a lot back.”
Smith will give the swimmers the “go” for the 8 a.m. start. Following the race, he will be presented with a special plaque for being the year’s honoree.
about the race
The first swims across the Great South Bay were held in 1927, according to Roos, who cites newspaper articles from that time.
After a prolonged hiatus that began in 1973, Bay Shore resident Rory Allen revived the race in 1999, recruiting lifeguards to participate in its return.
Among those lifeguards was 17-year-old Maggie Fischer, a senior at St. Anthony’s High School who lived in Brightwaters and worked at Saltaire.
She had been training for the big event when she died in a car accident just a few days before the race was scheduled to go off. The swim continued, with participants completing the challenge in memory of Maggie, according to the organizers.
It was later renamed The Maggie Fischer Memorial Great South Bay Cross Bay Swim.
The swim serves as a chief fundraiser for the Hospice Care Network’s Children and Family Bereavement Program, which aided the Fischer family after Maggie’s death.
The race also raises money for an annual scholarship in her name.
“Every swimmer is asked to raise $500, and they do even more than that,” said Roos.
Each year the event involves around 100 swimmers of all ages who are by accompanied kayaks, with tracking devices.
“Most of the kayakers are former swimmers who are passing the baton,” said M.J. Voltz, who is the master of the ceremony.
Spectators are invited to Gilbert Park in Brightwaters, where the final swimmers will be reaching shore around noon.
The swim itself begins at 8 a.m. near the Fire Island lighthouse.
The approximate distance is 5.25 miles. Each swimmer has four hours to complete the race, with volunteers, rescue boats from the U.S. Coast Guard and local firefighters on hand.
Top: A young Gary Smith being congratulated by the 1956 race’s host as the then-Brightwaters Village mayor after looks on.
Check back at GreaterBayShore for coverage from this year’s swim.