Pat Gallant-Charette, the Westbrook grandmother who conquered the English Channel and the Catalina Island crossing off California at age 60 last year, wants you to swim a few laps with her today.

Or, at least, pay a visit to a community pool for a free health screening or sponsor a swimmer raising money for local heart programs. It’s all part of an international effort – 29 countries are involved – called Swim for Your Heart to raise awareness of heart disease and its prevention.

Fourteen pools in Maine are participating in the event, held for the second year in a row on Valentine’s Day.

“We have several pools that are going to be open free of charge,” Gallant-Charette said. “I hope all of you come.”

Gallant-Charette, a registered nurse who works at the Barron Center in Portland, spent much of the past two weekends talking up the event at the Southwestern Swimming and Diving Championships for York and Cumberland county high school teams, handing out meet T-shirts to finishers who placed in the top three in their events.

On Saturday she was joined by Olympic gold medalist and Portland native Ian Crocker and his parents, Gail and Rick.

“My mother runs a cardiac rehab program at Maine Medical Center called Turning Point,” Ian Crocker said, “so I was always listening to her telling me about heart health growing up.”

Blood pressure and cholesterol screenings will be offered for free this morning at pools in Westbrook, Portland (Riverton, YMCA), South Portland and New Gloucester and this afternoon at pools in Cape Elizabeth, Cumberland, Freeport and Portland (Reiche).

Robbie Gallant, Pat’s brother, was a two-time Peaks-to-Portland winner who died of a heart attack at age 34. He had been diagnosed with high cholesterol at age 18, before he went on to captain the swim team at Northeastern University.

“They didn’t have the medicines they have today,” Gallant-Charette said. “Today, thanks to research, things are improving.”

A local cardiologist, Dr. Jeffrey Rosenblatt of Maine Health Cardiology, accompanied Gallant-Charette and the Crockers to five area pools Saturday to answer questions and promote today’s event.

“See if you’re one of those people at risk,” Rosenblatt said. “Don’t wait until it’s happened. There’s so many things you can do to prevent a catastrophic risk.”

Rosenblatt said that five years ago, he couldn’t swim a pool length without feeling “like I was going to drown.”

Since embracing a swimming routine, he has completed the Peaks-to-Portland crossing three times, as well as a half-dozen triathlons that included swims of three miles.

“Swimming offers an opportunity for all age groups to get out there and work on their fitness,” he said. “You don’t have to be a marathon swimmer like the person who swam the English Channel. Just getting out and being in the pool for five, even 10 minutes is going to reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke and you’re going to feel better. You’re going to lose weight. You’re going to meet other people.

“It’s a stress reducer.”

Most community pools offer a variety of programs, from swim aerobics and in-water exercise to instruction on swim stroke techniques. People with painful arthritis or those recuperating from joint-replacement surgery often find solace in therapeutic pool workouts, said Rosenblatt, who is also an adjunct professor of sports medicine at the University of Southern Maine.

“The other thing I want to get accomplished,” he said, “is that I don’t think people understand the huge financial strains on keeping community pools open. Many are operating on a shoestring. It would be a tragic loss to the community if we were not able to keep pools going.

“What I’d like to see is more people getting in the pool and swimming,” he said, “because it really is an untapped resource for health and wellness.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: [email protected]