Relay Swim Organizers Become Hope Heroes

Organ donor swim team and volunteersJust after sunrise last July, six endurance swimmers ventured out into the cool waters of Lake Muskoka for a 30km relay event. It was the second Organ Donor Swim organized to raise awareness of organ donation and kidney disease. Along the route, cottagers and their guests on shore and in boats cheered on the athletes, with hundreds more offering support.

Toronto’s Ricky Jacobs has seen the fundraiser, which began in 2016, gain remarkable momentum in a short time. Hope Heroes, a web fundraising tool available through The Kidney Foundation of Canada, provided a simple way to reach out to friends and family in his circle. The swim has so far raised more than $30,000 to provide subsidies for children with organ transplants or living with organ failure to attend summer camp. One of the swimmers, Wendy Chong-Edgell, was able to raise $10,000 of that total.

The relay swim is bringing attention to an issue that Ricky believes isn’t addressed enough – organ donation. To help people like his father, who is on dialysis and on the donor kidney waiting list, Ricky would like Canada to adopt two significant initiatives: a living organ donor registry and an organ donor opt-out option, whereby people are presumed to give consent to be organ donors unless they have registered their wishes to opt-out.

“I love my father and want him to stay with us for a long time,” Ricky reflects. “We are a close-knit family that likes to take action and not sit idly by. Our hope at first was to do something to stimulate a conversation about organ donation as broadly as possible, and to try find a donor for my father.”

swim photoRicky came up with the idea for a relay swim symbolizing the different levels of people involved in organ transplantation. He chose to centre the fundraiser in Muskoka, which holds a lot of happy family memories. He partnered with The Kidney Foundation for support and connected with competitive athletes in his circle, including an open water swimmer who competed in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.

Volunteers in the Gravenhurst area rallied around the cause, offering accommodation, meals, medical/therapeutic assistance, and more. What started out as a conversation in a family living room has become a significant fundraiser that illustrates what individuals can accomplish with a shared purpose.

“Hopefully, people are talking about organ donation in ways that they weren’t previously,” Ricky says. “We look forward to building this event year to year and to focus on trying to make as much of an impact as we can.”

Follow the team's progress:

(Article by Heidi Westfield)

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