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Locals to participate in swim to benefit Bolivian orphanage

By Staff | Jun 10, 2015

PHOTO SUBMITTED Swimmers Thomas Pear, left, and Bill Sawyer, right, with kayaker attendant Karen Bickford seem satisfied with their performance in last year's Swim Around Key West. Pear and Sawyer are swimming the 12.5-mile loop around Key West again on Saturday to raise money for a Bolivian orphanage.

For the third straight year, Thomas Pear and Bill Sawyer are participating in the Swim Around Key West, a 12.5-mile journey in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico this Saturday.

The “adventure” follows a loop course starting and ending at the Bertha Street Boat Ramp. The starting times come in four waves depending on the prevailing tides so participants can enjoy their swim with the current.

“I’m looking forward to the swim,” said Pear, a professor at Hodges University and part-time Cape Coral resident. “But, still, it’s a bit scary when I think ‘what have I gotten myself into again.’ I’m no Michael Phelps out there but I hope to improve my time to about six hours instead of seven.”

Pear, 51, and Sawyer, 59, a Sanibel resident, are avid distance swimmers who took on the Swim Around Key West for the first time two years ago for their own experience. Last year, they did it for a worthy cause to help raise funds for a Christian missionary Haven of Hope orphanage in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. They raised just over $2,000 for the orphanage which was trying to raise $10,000 to complete a boys’ dormitory building so boys could be reunited with their sisters.

“This is my third time for the swim,” said Sawyer, who has done full ironman and distance races since 2008. “I like a good challenge, especially one I can build up for. Last week was peak training week, but this week is rest up week. It’s a beautiful swim for what you see in the water, but the last two miles are very painful.”

The orphanage building is completed and this year’s fundraising effort goes toward the continued care of the five boys who have been reunited with their older sisters.

“I’m not having much luck with donations this year,” said Pear. “People can go to the Haven of Hope website and make an online donation throughout the year.”

Haven of Hope International executive director Alice Skaff said the big effort this year is to draw donors to the child sponsorship program online where they can sign up for a monthly donation of $30.

“It’s a very interactive program between the donors and the children,” said Skaff.

The orphanage also is planning some expansion. The boys’ dormitory will house 25 boys, but only five are there now. They plan to renovate an old building on the site as a library and study hall as well as a second old building to become office space and counseling. Skaff said in the future the mission is to open a separate orphanage for boys.

“We did see a jump in donations after last year’s swim,” said Skaff.

Pear will be accompanied by Gulf Coast Swim Team coach Nancy Jeffers urging him on and ensuring his safety on the course from a nearby kayak. Pear said he got into a pocket of jellyfish in a recent swim and had to quit, so the swim is not without some risks.

“My biggest fear is of sharks, but we haven’t yet seen one on the swim,” said Sawyer, who moved to Sanibel in 2003. “You can’t touch the kayak or the bottom or you are disqualified. Lightning also is a problem, so you have to get in the boat or get to shore until the all clear.”

Before the dorm building was completed the boys were housed at other orphanages because the could not share the same facility with the girls.

The orphanage now houses a total of 33 children. Overall, the orphanage has made a difference in the lives of more than 335 children who were rescued from the streets, abuse, abandonment or orphaned since opening in 2004.

To donate to the orphanage and support the swimmers’ cause visit www.havenofhopeintl.org/donate-online/index.html.