Michael's Mermaids swim to support cancer survivors

Swimming laps is harder than it sounds — just ask Trumbull resident Lauren Malatesta.
The 12-year old Madison Middle School student started the swim team Michael’s Mermaids last year to honor and support her uncle Michael Murray, who has been a cancer survivor since 1983.
“You’d be surprised, it’s a lot of work,” said Lauren. “It’s definitely straining and you definitely go home with aches but it’s worth all the pain — the satisfaction you get when helping someone.”
Lauren will be back in the water again at the 29th Annual Swim Across the Sound Aquathon and Walkathon at the Fairfield YMCA from noon to 9 p.m. Saturday, July 18.
The event, which has been held at the Fairfield University pool in the past, has drawn tons of local support over the years, including participation from Fairfield First Selectman Mike Tetreau and Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst last year. Sen. Richard Blumenthal is an expected guest at this year’s aquathon and walk-athon. Tetreau and Herbst might also make a follow-up appearance, Murray said.
“Every year is different but we’re expecting Blumenthal to jump in the pool this year,” he added. “We’re also trying to get some volunteers from the town’s fire and police departments.”
The event kicks off at noon with the annual jump into the pool, which will followed by a lunch that is provided for all the swimmers and volunteers.
“Jumping into the pool is very symbolic — it’s a big splash that gets everything rolling that day and into the night.”
From 5 to 8, DJ Seth Carley will provide live music and entertainment and at the same time there will be a BBQ-style dinner provided for all those involved. At 8, there will be a 1.5-mile walk from the YMCA to Fairfield Beach.
“We’re going to let balloons into the air at night this year for cancer survivors, as well as those who have lost their battle to cancer,” said Murray, who had to undergo 25 operations before he received a below-knee amputation in 1986.
For inspiration, Murray said he looked toward cancer survivors like Jeff Keith and Ted Kennedy Jr.
“Losing a leg is not easy,” Murray said. “I never gave up, though, and I was able to beat it.
“It changed my life; it changed who I am,” he added. “I never take anything for granted anymore, and I live each day to the fullest.”
Murray, who is now an amputee counseler, has channeled his experience to help others overcome the same challenges.
“I always tell them, ‘Look at me, look at what I’ve done,’” he said. “It’s the same message Jeff gave to me many years ago — ‘Look at what I can do — you can do so much more.”
Watching the water
Murray said that Lauren has been attending the event before she can even remember — since she was about three years old.
“It’s something where friends and families can come together for a singular cause that’s important to all of us,” said Lauren, whose dad, Ray Giovanni, is the event’s chairman. “We all know someone with cancer — and that’s why people have been swimming for this event for the last 29 years.”
Peer involvement
Lauren said that she’s convinced friends to participate not by bragging about the team she started, but instead by telling them how much fun they will have at the event.
“It’s not like I try to tell people, ‘I started this; I do that, you should to,’” she said. “I like to ask, ‘can you please come, it’s really so much fun’ and that’s seemed to work.”
She expects the number of swimmers on her team to double from eight last year to 16 this year.
“We might even have 20 people come out and join the Mermaids,” she said.
“All ages are welcome,” Murray added. “They can contribute by swimming laps or walking to the beach and back.”
Each swimmer or walker must raise a minimum of $50 in pledges to participate and receive a Swim Across the Sound T-shirt. Additional prizes will be awarded the higher the total pledged.
Murray and Lauren said the event wouldn’t have happened this year if it wasn’t for the YMCA.
“A lot of credit goes to their staff and the volunteers who will help put this on — we couldn’t have done it without them,” he said. “Thanks to them, we will be able to create success and memories at their great facility.”
Union Savings Bank in Monroe, where Giovanni works, is the title sponsor. Connect Computer of Fairfield is also contibuting to the event.
“We can’t thank Ray enough,” Murray said, “and Lynn Souza, from Connect Computer, has been nothing but totally supportive.”
While her uncle is a big source of inspiration, Lauren said he dad has also motivated her to keep the team going.
“He’s been my hero since day one,” she said. “I do anything he does and this is something he strongly believes in — he’s eager to help people and so am I.
“Some people can’t do it for themselves but we are more than able to do it for them,” she added.
Murray has his own hero he likes to credit.
“If it wasn’t for Lauren, this team wouldn’t exist,” he said. “It would never be something without her involvement, and knowing that I inspired somebody and now that person gone on to inspire their peers to get involved in this battle — that means a lot to me.”
Lauren agrees, adding that age is only a number.
“People underestimate what 12-year-olds can do — we can make a difference,” she said. “We’ve helped hundreds of people we’ve never even met before, and we don’t need to know anything about them other than that they’re suffering.”
More information
The money raised at this event will help underwrite the swim’s 40-plus cancer education, screening and support programs. In addition, the  swim helps cancer patients and their families on a case-by-case basis. St. Vincent’s Swim Across the Sound is the only cancer charity of its kind in Fairfield County.
The organization has raised over $2 million in its 30-year run.
The Fairfield YMCA is at 841 Old Post Road.
For more information, call 203-814-0338 or email Murray at michael781@hotmail.com. Giovanni may be reached at 203-880-3316 or by email at rgiovanni@unionsavings.com.
To donate to the swim’s cause, go to swimacrossthesound.org and click “Donate Now.”
“I want to thank all of the volunteers and people who raised money to make this event happen every year,” Murray said. “I hope to see the event grow for years to come.”