Nineteen Years of Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare

by Jane Baker Segelken, MA, MSW, part of the Social Work team at Hospicare & Palliative Care Services

With planning for Hospicare’s Women Swimmin’ in full swing now, excitement for the event is growing. It’s the first time since 2019 the event will be in person with all its splash. Joan Brumburg and Ann Costello, two of the event’s original creators, were happy to sit down and reflect on what they both acknowledge as the best family-focused feminist event in Ithaca.

“If you identify as female you can swim,” Joan said, adding that the opportunity given to women to come together with a common goal of supporting a vital, well-loved agency is very powerful. For some participants, the reason to swim is deeply personal — a family member or friend may have received services from Hospicare. For others, the event offers the perfect opportunity to accomplish a challenging goal. “It takes a bit of daring to swim in the lake,” Joan said.

Joan should know what courage it takes to swim. When she turned 60, 19 years ago, Joan had her physical with Ann, a local physician, who asked her what she wanted to do that she hadn’t yet. Joan replied she wanted to swim across the lake, and Ann said she’d do that with her. “We decided to turn the swim into a fundraiser for Hospicare,” Joan said. They thought they’d get 25 others to swim with them and maybe raise $5,000. “That first year 126 women swam, and together we raised $54,000 dollars,” Ann explained. Since that first event, Women Swimmin’ has raised more than $5 million for Hospicare.

Women Swimmin’ is a fundraising event that helps sustain the nurturing attention that Hospicare & Palliative Care Services gives to patients and their loved ones at any stage of a life-limiting illness and/or following a death. The annual event raises funds and provides information and education about the agency and its mission in a manner that is inclusive, fun, and consistent with Hospicare’s respect for all people. Because of the generosity of corporate sponsors, every dollar raised goes directly to patient care. 

“We do this because we believe in the mission of the organization,” Ann explained, adding that they see how it helps family, friends, and in her case, patients. “Our goal is to make sure the agency has what it needs.”

Swimming with a personal goal

The power of the event can’t be understated. It’s a group of people that are united with a common, often deeply personal goal. Women Swimmin’ captures one of the things Ithaca is known for: the tradition of athletic events that support local agencies. The lake in all its glory is the perfect venue for a big summer happening.

While only women can swim, individuals of any gender can participate. Joan’s husband and son have been swimmers-escort boaters and volunteers with other tasks. Ann’s son has boated. Musicians play music to welcome the swimmers back on land. The Brous family, of Ithaca Bakery fame, has generously provided bagels, fruit, and beverages to all swimmers and volunteers since year one. And many other businesses contribute goods, services, and money.

This year, Ashley Mungiello is looking forward to “watching the sun rise over the lake as I think of how lucky I am to have had the most incredible father for the last 40 years.” A14-year participant in Women Swimmin’, she knows first-hand what it means when others say it’s a family affair. Ashley started boating with her father while her mother, sister, and friends swam across the lake. Every one of them had a personal connection to Hospicare, and even more so now; Ashley’s father died peacefully last summer receiving support from Hospicare’s team of caregivers.

For those who don’t swim or boat, an alternative called Go the Distance! makes the event even more inclusive. Individuals — regardless of age or gender — set an activity or service goal in support of Hospicare. Whether one is walkin’, knittin’, bikin’, pickin’ up trash, etc., the goal and outcome are the same: support of compassionate care in our community! For example, Joan is walking her Westie at least 150 miles in July and August. 

Four ways you can still participate:

Women Swimmin’ — held this year on Saturday, August 13 from 6:00 a.m. to noon — is a total team effort:

  • Go the Distance – Set an activity or service goal in support of Hospicare
  • Be a Support Boater – Sign up to assist swimmers across the lake
  • Donate
  • Volunteer

For more information and to sign up to volunteer go to womenswimmin.org or call Kimari Johnson at 607-272-0212.

Also, check out this informational video that captures the spirit of Women Swimmin’: