Peaks to Portland swim organizers dive into history

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PORTLAND — The annual Peaks to Portland swim is a long-running city tradition, but many may not know that it’s been happening far longer than 32 years.

With this year’s swim in Casco Bay coming up Saturday, organizers are trying to shed light on the event’s history, which goes as far back as the 1920s.

The problem is, there isn’t much historical evidence, said Helen Brena, chief executive officer of the YMCA of Southern Maine. There are only one or two known photos and a few news clippings, she said, but not much else.

So Brena said the YMCA is looking for photos, memorabilia and published stories about past swims to piece together “a true historical perspective.” 

“Because it’s a piece of Portland, and Portland’s history,” she said.

The YMCA has been organizing the swim that begins on Peaks Island and finishes at East End Beach since it was revived in the 1980s.

Two years ago, Brena said, when the Y celebrated its 30th year with the event, the group began thinking of ways to better tell its story, along with emphasizing the swim’s cultural and historical connections to the city.

She said the Y wants to tell the stories of people who have been involved with Peaks to Portland over the last nearly 100 years.

“If I tell you that I get scared to death every year I do the swim, that is more impactful and I think it paints a more vivid picture of what it is about,” Brena said. “So if we get people’s stories from as far back as we can, we can paint a very vivid picture of what Peaks to Portland has meant to the community over the years.”

She said those who wish to share photos, memorabilia and stories with the YMCA can contact the group’s aquatics director, Terry Swaim, at its Portland office. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected], by phone at 874-1111 or by mail at 70 Forest Ave., Portland ME 04101.

The Peaks to Portland swim is expected to raise $70,000 in net proceeds this year, with 400 participating swimmers, Brena said. The 2.4-mile swim begins on Peaks Island at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.

Sidebar Elements

One of the few known photos from the Peaks to Portland swim in 1927, according to the YMCA of Southern Maine, which has organized the event for the last 32 years.