Lisa Altenbernd with her daughter Caroline Hagerty of Evanston, 11, who swam 151 lengths in an hour in the annual Flying Fish Swim Marathon.

Evanston, IL. – Three hundred and eighty-four Flying Fish team members swam a combined 38,951 lengths, or about 553 miles, in the 21st annual Flying Fish Swim Marathon, ending in February. The annual swim, a requirement for all team members, is a continuous one hour effort for swimmers from 6 years old through high school.

From a coach’s point of view, the Swim Marathon is one of the highlights of the swim season. “But it really isn’t about swimming,” explains Coach Nancy Anderson. “It’s about discovering that you’re more than you think you are. We’ve see frightened young swimmers confront their fears by jumping in and just doing it, and we’ve been surprised by children who don’t seem to have much endurance or enthusiasm in practice but who find the strength to swim 100 laps when we thought they might do 60.”

For a parent, who sits on deck counting their child’s lengths, the marathon is both exhausting and inspiring. “If parents feel everything that their child feels, only more deeply,” says Lisa Altenbernd, whose six year old son Garrett just completed his first marathon, “the swim marathon can be a pretty demanding hour of parenting.

“My son’s marathon confirmed that he is tough. Whether he realized it or not, he hung in there when the going got tough, which is at about the 35:00 mark. And the pride he exuded at completion of the marathon is hard to match in any activity at any age.”

In addition to being an important test of swimmer’s progress and endurance each year, the Swim Marathon is a fundraiser which grosses over $90,000 from sponsors to help support the YWCA’s critical programs and services in the community.

“During my daughter’s first marathon, I remember telling her jokingly that she was costing me a lot of money because I had pledged $5 per length for every length over the goal her coach had set for her. It was some of the best money I ever spent,” says Altenbernd.

As YWCA Evanston/North Shore CEO Karen Singer observed, “they push themselves farther than they probably ever have, both for themselves AND for the YW. What I witnessed was the essence of the Flying Fish Program: support, encouragement, striving to do your personal best and also being a part of a community.