Jennifer Bew, of Midway, swam and ran the 27-mile circumference of St. Catherines Island on July 13 to raise money for Cure Childhood Cancer, an organization that finances research that could lead to a cure for childhood cancer.
“I want the children and their families to believe in the impossible,” she said. “I want to motivate them to create their own epic journey.”
Bew’s aquathon challenge began at 6 a.m. on the northern tip of the island with a 13-mile beach run through driftwood, marsh mud flats, sinking sand and sand mud. Two inlets, the Seaside and McQueen, prevented Bew from running nonstop.
“Once I hit the McQueen inlet, shoes came off, and I swam to the other side of the inlet,” she said. “I got out of the water, the shoes came back on, and I finished the run.”
She transitioned to the open-water swim near Brunson Creek on the south end of the island. She swam up the Intracoastal Waterway along the west side of the island and finished at her starting point on North Beach in about nine hours.
“The hardest part was the tide,” Bew said. “I needed to approximate where the tidal change occurs and race against time to get to that tidal change so it doesn’t take me off course.”
Another danger of swimming in open water is getting too close to motorboats that can’t see swimmers.
“People have lost hands because a motor boat didn’t see a swimmer,” she said.
A team of supporters in boats and kayaks floated nearby during the swim to protect her from these boats. Mindi Morrell, friend and owner of Dock Supply, and Susan Inman, former St. Catherines Island zoologist, floated in kayaks for Bew’s protection and handed her food and drink so she didn’t have to get out of the water the whole 14-mile swim.
“I am so grateful for all the people who came out to support me,” she said. “Without them, this couldn’t have happened.”
Bew refueled with chocolate milk for caffeine and coconut water for potassium, she said.
“You lose about 1 pound for every three swimming miles,” she said. “The swim was pretty long, so I had to make sure I ate a lot to make up for all the calories I was burning.”
The potassium from the coconut water is important, she said, to counteract all the salt water she accidentally ingested while swimming.
Bew refueled every 20 to 30 minutes. She was completely unassisted and did not touch ground except during the running portion at the beginning of the journey.
“When I get to a point where I don’t think I can go any further, I think of the children and their survival struggle,” she said. “It is a big inspiration to keep me going … I put myself in their position.”
Bew finished at the beach where she started the 14-mile journey. Her crew, cheering squad and husband, Richard Bew, greeted her at 2:40 p.m. — about eight hours and 35 minutes after the challenge began.
“If my aquathons can raise money to help find a cure for childhood cancer, then it will all be worthwhile,” she said.
Bew lives in Midway with Richard Bew and their children, Howard, 6, and Elise, 4. She works at the Hinesville YMCA as a swim instructor and lifeguard and has participated in open-water events and marathons for years. She was a competitive swimmer as a child but didn’t swim for 16 years. She swam in her first open-water race in 2010, and ever since then, she has been training in the pool.
Whenever she gets a chance, she trains at the Hinesville YMCA pool.
“Swimming is very spiritual,” she said. “It’s is like meditation for me.”
She plans to circumnavigate 10 Georgia barrier islands during the next six years for charity.
People interested in donating can go to Bew’s website, www.gacoastalaquathons.com. Donations will go straight to the Cure Childhood Cancer organization, Bew said.
“The organization is so wonderful and supportive,” she said. “They have done so much work for childhood cancer, and I am so happy to be a part of them.”