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Weather prompts R.I. Olympian Elizabeth Beisel to call off Block Island swim again

The North Kingstown native is raising money for cancer research following her father’s death, but has had to postpone her historic, fundraising swim twice

Elizabeth Beisel, of North Kingstown, training to swim to Block Island.PJ Dougherty

PROVIDENCE — For the second time, weather and ocean conditions have forced Elizabeth Beisel, the three-time Olympic swimmer from North Kingstown, to postpone her attempt to become the first woman to swim from the mainland to Block Island.

Hurricane Larry had whipped up wind and waves, causing her to call off the first attempt on Sept. 9. So Beisel had been planning to plunge into the Atlantic at 6:15 a.m. Wednesday at Matunuck Beach.

“At 4:45 this morning, it was still a go,” Beisel told the Globe on Tuesday. “And then the weather report at 8 a.m. said winds are significantly changing and there will be swells tomorrow.”


So she said she and her team decided to postpone the swim until the weekend, hoping conditions will improve. “I think it will be Saturday, Sunday, or Monday,” she said. “Saturday is looking the best.”

Beisel, 29, said the Hurricane Larry postponement was an obvious choice. This latest decision was less clear-cut because “if you look outside tomorrow it will be just fine,” she said. But she would be swimming into a strong wind in the Block Island sound, and the height of the swells would make for a rocky trip not just for her but for the 15 people on her support team, she said.

“It’s the right call,” Beisel said. But the postponements are tough because she is so geared up mentally and physically for the attempt, she said.

In January, Beisel announced she would do the swim to raise money for cancer research and to encourage her father Ted Beisel, who was then battling Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. She said she came up the the “Block Cancer” idea as a way to give her father something to look forward and a way to raise money for cancer research.


Elizabeth Beisel holds the silver medal she won in 2012 Summer Olympics in the 400-meter individual medley. She is celebrating with her father, Ted Beisel.Handout

All proceeds are benefiting the nonprofit Swim Across America, whose mission is to fund cancer research, and Beisel said all the money will remain in Rhode Island, where her father received most of his treatment.

Her father died on July 1, before she could make the swim attempt. But one of his last wishes was that she would complete the “Block Cancer” charity swim.

“He is going to be on my mind the entire time,” Beisel said. “He is definitely somebody I will think of when I want to give up, which is inevitable.”

She recalled watching her father’s health quickly deteriorate and how bravely he fought the cancer.

“I will remember that my swim is not nearly as hard,” Beisel said. “He will definitely be there in spirit with me.”

Beisel said that she and her family often visited Block Island when she was a child, taking the ferry there and then flying kites.

“I have always wanted to swim to Block Island, growing up in the Ocean State,” she said. “Swimming is my sport. So I said ‘I can do that.’ ”

But swimming the 10.4 miles of open ocean to Block Island is a “completely different beast” than swimming 400 meters in an Olympic pool, Beisel said.

“With pool swimming, I am used to a controlled environment, with the water heated to 79 degrees, no wind, indoors,” she said.

With ocean swimming, “it depends on the day and what Mother Nature has in store,” Beisel said. “In training during hurricane season in Rhode Island, I have swum in 6-foot swells and in water so flat it looks like a pond.”


Beisel said she is concerned that the water will keep getting colder if the attempt keeps getting postponed. She plans to adhere to Marathon Swimmers Federation’s rules, swimming nonstop and unassisted, and she will not wear a wetsuit, which could give her an advantage.

Beisel said she is not concerned about sharks in part because most of them have probably moved south to warmer waters by now. “They are smarter than me,” she said with a laugh.

Also, she said sharks will probably stay away from the two motor boats and the two kayaks that will accompany her. Her team of 15 will include shark experts, emergency medical technicians, a navigator, her swim coach, members of her family, and Elaine Howley of the Marathon Swimmers Federation.

Beisel acknowledged “a little bit of trepidation” about making the swim. “I don’t actually know if I can do this,” she said.

But if she does become the first woman to ever swim to Block Island, she said that would be “so cool.”

Beisel didn’t hesitate when asked what she will do to celebrate if she succeeds and reaches Block Island. “I will have a mudslide for my reward,” she said.

When she first came up with the charity swim idea, Beisel set $5,000 as the target. As of Tuesday, the effort had raised $122,480, and donations are still being accepted. To donate and to follow her progress during the swim, visit blockcancer.org.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.