Olympic medalist Elizabeth Beisel makes history in open water swim to Block Island

North Kingstown native raises funds for cancer in honor of her father


North Kingstown native Elizabeth Beisel swam at three Olympics, becoming the only female swimmer to compete on the US National team for 12 consecutive years (like counterpart Michael Phelps). Last month, she embarked on the most personal swim of her career: a 10.4-mile crossing from South Kingstown to Block Island to raise money for Block Cancer, a charity she formed after her dad received a pancreatic cancer diagnosis in December 2020.

Beisel was in the water at six months old taking mom-and-me swim classes. “We had a pool, and of course, we were close to the ocean. My parents wanted to make sure we were safe,” she shares just days before her history-making plunge.

She took to the water like…well…a fish. “My favorite movie was The Little Mermaid; favorite animal, a dolphin,” she explains. She joined her first competitive swim team at five.

In 2008 she made the Olympic team and, at 15, was the youngest member of Team USA. “I had this crazy dream that as a sophomore in high school, I would go to the Olympics,” she says. It was a dream that even she dismissed. “I kept thinking, oh, that will never happen. I didn’t think I could do it, but I proved myself wrong.”

She went to the Olympics twice more, in 2012 and 2016, taking home two medals and being named captain. She credits the pressure to compete at such an elite level for preparing her for this grueling open water swim.

“So many factors go into an open water swim; it’s a different sport,” she says. “When I get into the pool, I know the water is going to be 79 degrees, there’s no wind, no tides, no swell.”

And no wetsuit allowed for the open water swim. “Physically, I know I can get there” but, she notes, staying warm in 68 degree water for up to seven hours is daunting. “Mentally, I am nervous. I know I am pushing my body to limits I’ve never pushed before.”

Beisel is the first woman to do the crossing; only two men completed it before her. So she feels a bit of pressure to represent women and be a role model. “It’s a lot bigger than just a swim to raise money.”   

“I wish my dad could be here,” she says. “I think he’d say ‘you did it! This is amazing!’”

She began this challenge with a $5,000 goal. “My dad, from the get go, said, we’re hitting six figures.” Beisel raised over $135K for her Block Cancer charity.

While he passed away before her historic swim, he did see her reach this soaring fundraising goal. “He died knowing his fight wasn’t for nothing.”

The money is being donated to Rhode Island hospitals for pancreatic cancer research. It was a point that her father insisted on when she embarked on this journey, that the money remain in the state. In return, the Rhode Island community rallied behind her. “It’s beautiful,” she says. “It’s not just me out there swimming; it’s everyone who has helped do this special thing.” Donations are still accepted at SwimAcrossAmerica.org


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