Community Sports

Sarah Dealy to swim across Bellingham Bay in support of Skookum

Sarah Dealy, 17, began training in open water in March, swimming in Bellingham Bay for up to four hours alongside a supporting kayaker.
Sarah Dealy, 17, began training in open water in March, swimming in Bellingham Bay for up to four hours alongside a supporting kayaker. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Sarah Dealy, 17, will leave Lummi shore at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 29, to swim across Bellingham Bay in support of Whatcom’s new transitional housing for foster children.

“Now that I’m in the week leading up to it, I’m pretty nervous,” Dealy said. “But I’m also really excited because I’ve been working for this long and I’m ready to finally actually get out on the water and do it.”

Plans to swim across the bay began a year ago. Dealy knew she would need to train hard to accomplish this feat of endurance.

“I was definitely not the best swimmer when I started this,” she said. “I didn’t have speed and I probably couldn’t have gone for that long because my bad form was wasting a lot of energy, it wasn’t conservative. The hardest part was getting the form down and just doing laps on laps on laps.”

In January of this year, Dealy began getting up at 4 a.m. to swim before her Running Start classes and then get back in the pool when they were done. In March she started training in the bay, doing open water swims three times a week with a kayaker.

“Actually, I’ve never been on a swim team,” she said. “I had swim lessons when I was a little kid and I like to swim by myself a lot.”

The longest swim she has ever done in the bay was about six miles and it took four hours.

With the coaching help of her friend Preston Allen, who is on a swim team, Dealy began to feel more confident in the water. He taught her the importance of using the correct stroke at different times and to focus her breathing.

“She’s really passionate about whatever she does,” Allen said. “Whether it is a team sport or individual she works to be the best she can be.”

It is the endurance aspect that will be most difficult for Dealy during the swim, Allen said. If she begins to feel tired, she needs to change her stroke and her breathing and stay focused on those details when out in the open water.

“I believe she is ready,” he said. “She has worked really hard at it, training every day for three or four hours.”

Dealy has been studying tide and current charts to determine the best way across the bay. Currently, the plan is to go to the end of Portage Island from Lummi shore and continue on to the Boulevard Park boardwalk from there.

Dealy’s goal is to complete the swim in six hours.

A sport kayaker will be beside her at all times to provide food and water. A 30-foot boat will also shadow her to provide visibility for the larger boats in the bay that might have a hard time seeing the kayak. On that boat will be a captain, Dealy’s brother, two kayakers to switch out, Allen and a nurse.

Dealy is not the first person to attempt swimming across Bellingham Bay.

Josh Fueston attempted the swim when he was 14 years old. Cold conditions prevented him from going beyond four miles and in 2011 his swim was completed in his memory by eight members of the military.

Fueston was a private first class in the Army and served five months in Iraq. After coming home and suffering from PTSD, he committed suicide on Sept. 13, 2009.

“I just want to recognize that he tried this before and I respect his service,” Dealy said. “So definitely while I’m swimming I will be remembering that.”

The bay is approximately eight miles across and Dealy has asked that her supporters donate per mile to Skookum Kids, a month-old volunteer home for foster children in Whatcom County.

So far, $1000 has been raised if Dealy completes the swim.

“That’s my motivation for getting across the bay,” she said. “For every mile I swim, it’s more money for Skookum.”

Ray Deck III, the founder and Executive Director of Skookum said it costs $100 per child per night to stay at the home and so far the entire budget has come from donations.

“It’s amazing,” Deck said. “Whatcom County is a very generous place and when people hear of the need, they want to help. We don’t have any trouble convincing people to help, we just need help spreading the word about what we are doing.”

Dealy approached Skookum early in the organization’s founding. She wanted to use her swim to support a charity she knew cared about her community.

“Sarah was on board and very excited about what we are doing and was looking for a way to help from very early on in the process,” Deck said.

Currently, Skookum is open from noon on Friday to noon on Monday, but the goal is to become a full-time safe house for transitional foster children, where they can have food, shelter and care in a stress-free environment.

Two or three volunteers are on staff at the four-bedroom house in the South Hill neighborhood, covering 72 shifts.

“Our biggest goal right now is to introduce coverage seven days a week, which requires more volunteers and more money,” Deck said. “It’s all of the same thing, we just need more of it.”

The first week in September Skookum is expanding to Thursdays and growing their volunteer base. So far, on the three-day schedule, it takes approximately 40 people to comfortably cover the weekend.

“On average, there are 17 children per month entering foster care in Whatcom County,” Deck said. “And all of those would be eligible to spend up to 3 nights with us.”

Dealy has had a soft spot for foster kids for years, she said.

Her desire to support Skookum began with volunteering at Royal Family KIDS Camp, where she worked with foster children and and other young vulnerable people.

“Every time I’ve worked with foster kids it has felt very rewarding,” Dealy said. “And it’s unfortunately a huge part of our community, we do have a lot of displaced kids.”

Swim the Bay

When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, August 29

Where: Lummi shore to Boulevard Park Boardwalk