Arena Makes History at the 2023 Maggie Fischer Memorial Great South Bay Cross Bay Swim

By Joe Cook

Photos by Joe Cook • Slide Show by Beth Batkiewicz












Christopher Arena crosses the finish line in First Place.

As a bright orange sunrise burned off a morning haze on July 20, 2023, 133 swimmers and their kayakers lined the beach in front of the Fire Island Lighthouse. The swimmers and kayakers were preparing for the start of the annual Maggie Fischer Great South Bay Cross Bay Swim. A warm and oddly calming breeze rolled in off the bay just moments before the pistol shot that signaled the beginning of the swim. You could have not asked for better weather. “This is the day we pray for,” Bob Fischer, the man who leads the organizing committee, said. “Seeing all of this come together like this, and this weather, it’s like magic.”

As the start drew closer, a quietness fell over the beach that was just buzzing moments ago. Despite there not being a single cloud in the sky, there was an electric feeling in the air. As the pistol shot rang out at 7 a.m., the swimmers dove into the water to begin their nearly six-mile trek across the Great South Bay. It remained quiet, as all you could hear was the splashing of 133 sets of arms racing away from the beach. The splashing looked similar to that of a bluefish blitz on a pod of bunker.

“This is the best part of the entire swim,” Fischer said.

Dozens of spectators of all ages watched as the swimmers disappeared into the middle of the bay, signaling the safe and successful, start of another annual swim.

Mile four at the Robert Moses Bridge.

The Maggie Fischer Great South Bay Cross Bay Memorial Swim has a long history and legacy, dating back to 1927. In 1999, it was re-named after Bob Fischer’s daughter, Maggie Fischer, a 17-year-old senior from St. Anthony’s High School, who unfortunately passed away days before the swim. Maggie, a top student and Saltaire lifeguard was one of 15 scheduled participants set to partake in the revival of the swim after a 26-year stoppage. Speaking on what it means to him and his family, Bob Fischer said, “It’s huge and such a tribute to my Maggie; she was a remarkable girl and so many of her peers are still involved. It has turned out to be so well run with a lot of character, it’s the high point of the year for my family.”

The swim is exactly 5.32 miles from the starting point at the Fire Island Lighthouse Beach, to the finish at Gilbert Park, in Brightwaters. There are five stages to the swim that the participants must go through. The first mile consists of each swimmer meeting up with their kayak team in a frenzy of every person participating. The second consists of getting past a sandbar, which is then followed by the third mile, getting through the West Dickerson Channel. This is where it opens up and the water begins to get choppy. Once through those three stages of the swim, the swimmers enter the fourth mile, where they are at the equivalent of the middle of the Robert Moses Bridge. The water gets rougher here as well, as it’s in the middle of the bay. The fifth and final stage is the final mile to the finish line, and the toughest one. When the swimmers finally cross, it’s all worth it. They have accomplished an outstanding achievement and contributed to a great cause. They have honored the life and legacy of Maggie Fischer, her family, all those who have participated in the event before, and the charity that comes with it. All the money raised by swimmers and the donations made by companies and individuals are donated to the Hospice Children and Family Bereavement Services. Along with that, is the funding of the Maggie Fischer Scholarship at St. Anthony’s High School. Last year, $100,000 was donated to the Hospice Children and Family Bereavement Services. $10,000 was donated to Maggie Fischer Scholarship. As always, the hope is that more will be raised this year. “We all get behind this, there’s no bigger high,” Fischer said of how it feels seeing the hard work he and the volunteers put in pay off.

The first person to cross the finish line at this year’s swim was Christopher Arena, of Amityville; finishing in 1:58:05. Arena is now a six-time first-place finisher, breaking a tie with Bryan Krut for the most Victories in the history of the swim! Finishing second was last year’s first-place finisher, Billy Swartwout of Amityville, in 2:00:17. In third place, and the first female to complete the swim, was Mary McKenna, completing the cross in 2:00:54.

“It’s an honor to swim along my fellow Friar swimmers, Saltaire Lifeguard co-workers, and honor Maggie and the legacy she has,” McKenna – the record holder for the fastest female crossing, said.

McKenna also explained of her mindset entering the final mile. “Just finish the race, all the hard work you’ve put into it, finish strong and cross the finish line.”

Coming in fourth place and the second female to finish was Kim Larson, with a time of 2:06:01.

While the competitive nature is natural with events like these, this swim is about way more than that. It is about community, legacy, and generations of family competitors. That was evident with first-time participant, Jack Krut. Krut’s grandfather, a former swimmer, unfortunately, passed away on Tuesday. He wanted to honor his grandfather and still compete in the swim.

Maggie Fischer Swim Swimmers 2023.

“My family’s been swimming this my whole life, it’s great to be able to swim for a great cause, and you know, for my grandfather as well,” Krut explained. “I feel good getting across. I could have been a little faster as always, but either way, it’s a great feat and I’m definitely happy, and happy to be on the other side.”

With the majestic-like feel and peaceful silence of how the race began, it was the opposite at the end. Every swimmer was greeted with loud cheers and applause from family, friends, and spectators. It is more than just a mere swim for those involved. It is about charity, self-achievement, and for many swimmers, connecting with the roots of their family and friends. If you or anyone you know would like to participate as either a swimmer, kayaker, or volunteer in the future, they are always looking for additional help. One thing is for sure, Bob Fischer and his family will once again be working extremely hard to deliver a terrific and safe event, in the name of the late and great, Maggie Fischer.