A group of friends in Great Britain, a cardiologist in South Africa and 2,000 swimmers in Mexico will get in the water Thursday to raise awareness for heart disease – an annual Valentine’s Day event started by the grandma from Westbrook who has set records in recent years with her long-distance ocean swims.
Swimmers from more than 30 countries will participate in the third year of Swim for Your Heart, said Pat Gallant-Charette, who founded the event in honor of her brother Robbie Gallant, a competitive swimmer who died from a heart attack at the age of 34.
His death prompted her to swim in the Peaks-to-Portland race 15 years ago, starting an open-water career that now includes swims as the oldest American woman to cross the English Channel and the oldest woman ever to cross the Catalina Channel off California and the Tsugaru Strait in Japan.
Gallant-Charette, 62, said the people she has met through marathon swimming and her high-profile career have helped the Valentine’s Day event grow throughout the world.
In Maine, blood pressure and cholesterol screenings will be available Thursday at 10 community pools in Cumberland and York counties, most of which will offer free admission for swimming.
People will participate in the event by getting screened for heart disease, swimming for heart health and donating to heart charities of their choice.
The Davan Pool at the Westbrook Community Center, where Gallant-Charette will be at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, will collect donations to buy a defibrillator and CPR training dummies.
Gallant-Charette will make appearances during the day at the Casco Bay YMCA in Freeport, the Greely Pool and the YMCA in Portland.
She plans to continue talking up heart disease in April to swimmers in New Zealand, where she will attempt to cross the Cook Strait for her fifth leg in the Oceans Seven Challenge, a quest to complete seven long-distance, open-water swims around the globe.
Although Gallant-Charette has set records for being the oldest to complete several of those swims, the main message of Thursday’s event is that heart disease can strike at any age.
“A person may be young and look healthy, but they still need to go get checked,” she said.
For more information about Thursday’s event and participating pools, visit swimforyourheartfeb14.com.
Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: