Massive swim around the Island for a worthy cause

Islander duo fundraises for The First Night Project.

Harry McGovern was blown away by what his swimming buddies accomplished over an intense and lengthy period as they transported their bodies through the waters of Lake Washington.

With their sturdy arms and legs steadily moving and determination shining, Mercer Island High School (MIHS) senior Jack Sieckhaus and graduate Emmett Ralston traveled roughly 13 miles around the Island on Aug. 24 in nearly six hours and 40 minutes as an immense part of their fundraiser for McGovern’s The First Night Project (TFNP) nonprofit.

The challenging and mammoth aqua trek that covered nearly 29,000 yards commenced at 6:15 a.m. at Clarke Beach and wrapped up where they started at 1:45 p.m. The kayaking trio of Evan Liu (who also swam about seven miles), Dylan Shobe and coach Nate O’Brien supervised the swimmers while they were “battling wind, cold, boat wakes and exhaustion,” according to the TFNP site.

Islander McGovern, who is a senior at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in April of 2020 and underwent chemotherapy for five-plus months. Now considered “safely” in remission for about three years, McGovern continues to run his TFNP that provides care packages for teens receiving chemotherapy.

“Their feat was incredible — we’ve heard from so many that are beyond impressed with their feat,” said Harry’s mom, Ann, who noted that the swimmers had raised more than $2,800 at press time. The McGoverns will make a 20% donation to the final tally from the swim, which they anticipate will splash past the $3,500 mark. The entire amount will go toward the care packages, which include memory foam pillows, blankets, body wash, gift cards to streaming services and local eateries around the hospital areas and a letter from Harry.

Harry joined Sieckhaus and Ralston in the Clarke Beach parking lot at 6 a.m. on swim day, kayaked alongside them for two hours and greeted them at the conclusion of their significant achievement about eight hours later.

“There is no doubt that I’ve marveled at the perseverance and grit that I’ve witnessed, but I think it was even more inspiring hearing their eagerness to bring support to TFNP,” said Harry, adding that their vital assistance continued after the swim was in the books. “Jack and Emmett both show a willingness to devote themselves to spreading awareness even after their accomplishment, and I truly admire them for that dedication.”

It is by far the lengthiest swim that Sieckhaus has ever notched.

In the week leading up to the event, Sieckhaus’ training consisted of five one-mile lake swims and Ralston completed two lake swims. Through the duo’s extensive swimming journey with MIHS and the Olympic Cascade Aquatics (OCA) club, Sieckhaus said they had enough training and endurance immersed in their systems to guide them through the swim.

When the idea hit him, Sieckhaus thought it would be cool to say he swam around the Island, “Then I realized that’s a pretty big attention-grabber, and so it would be really helpful to use that to funnel attention towards a good cause,” said Sieckhaus, adding that they are proud of their efforts and raising money for their close friend’s charity.

O’Brien — who coaches the Islanders at OCA — was immediately on board, and then along came Ralston.

“He was totally up for it and so I was like, ‘Great, I got someone else dumb enough to embark on this long swim with me,’” said Sieckhaus, whose comment was punctuated with a hearty laugh.

They broke the swim up into increments by taking three major breaks along the way at the boat launch, Calkins Landing and Seward Park. The boys’ moms and others met them at the rest stops and provided sustenance in the form of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, mini-waffle bites and grape-flavored energy mix to douse into their water bottles. A vital helping of beef jerky fueled them on the final mile of their swim as they plowed upwind through the water for the second time on that epic day.

Sieckhaus said that the tight-knit relationship between him, Ralston and O’Brien made for a memorable Thursday on Lake Washington.

“We just know how to keep each other entertained and crack jokes and things like that, so it was a good support network of people helping us,” he said.

A major culinary prize awaited the swimmers at the completion of their expedition.

“Once we finished, my parents were waiting with a massive box of Dick’s burgers. So once we were done, we had a whole bunch of cheeseburgers and fries,” Sieckhaus said.

With everyone pleased about the results of swim No. 1, there is already chatter in the air and online about a possible repeat performance next year. Sieckhaus said he’s happily on the fence about an encore and perhaps making the swim an annual fundraiser.

They’ll decide if another massive swim is on the docket when the time comes, he said.

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From left to right, Jack Sieckhaus, Harry McGovern and Emmett Ralston under the Interstate 90 bridge. Photo courtesy of Ann Ralston

From left to right, Jack Sieckhaus, Harry McGovern and Emmett Ralston under the Interstate 90 bridge. Photo courtesy of Ann Ralston