Rhode Islander Virtually Completes Save the Bay Swim in Italy

Even though Rhode Islander Rick Fleeter is living in Rome, Italy, he found a way to participate in Saturday’s Save the Bay Swim, a 1.7-mile race from Newport to Jamestown within Narragansett Bay.

Even though Rhode Islander Rick Fleeter is living in Rome, Italy, at the moment, he was dead-set on participating in Saturday’s Save the Bay Swim (a 1.7-mile race from Newport to Jamestown within Narragansett Bay; proceeds go toward its preservation). So, he did what any diehard would do- he swam it virtually without leaving the comfort of Italy’s Tyrrhenian Sea!

Here’s our Q&A interview with the devoted swimmer:

Where are you originally from?

I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, but I fell in love with Rhode Island after moving here to attend Brown University in 1972. I became a permanent resident of Charlestown in 2002, and continue to bounce back and forth between here and my other home in Rome. I have lived and worked all over the world since, but Rhode Island is home to me, or at least one of two homes.

How long have you been living in Rome?

I first went to Italy in 1975 as a student engineering intern. In the ‘80s, after college, I started going back there for work, and eventually I was in Rome, or another part of Italy, almost every year for a few weeks. I started teaching here about ten years ago and that has now grown to about half of my work. I now commute between work in Rhode Island, where I teach at Brown, and teaching at La Sapienza [University of Rome]. I am now in Rhode Island from mid-January to mid-May, minus a few weeks in Rome in March, plus I’m in Rhode Island in August and a little of September.

Have you participated in the Save the Bay Swim before? 

I’m not sure how many year’s I’ve done it – probably five or maybe six. This year I had planned to be back soon enough to do it, but that didn’t work out, hence the “virtual swim” idea. 

How exactly did you swim in this event virtually? 

I picked out an open water swim course here in Italy with a similar length to the Narragansett Bay swim. My girlfriend was patient enough to walk the beach as I swam offshore parallel to it, and she measured the distance with a GPS watch. Basically, I just picked a beach, put on the wet suit and dove in and started swimming. An hour or so later, I returned to the shore. However, only the swim part is virtual, in the sense of not doing it in the Narragansett Bay – I registered and I raised money for the event just like all the swimmers do. I did it about two weeks in advance because I felt it had to be done by the date of the Save the Bay swim.

Why were you so set on swimming, regardless of your location?

Of course living on the water in Charlestown, one is really sensitive to the damage people can do – or not do, depending on their choices – to the environment.  I personally feel that people can and should live in harmony with the rest of the natural environment. We are, after all, a part of that ecosystem and it makes no sense to destroy it. The ecosystem supports all of us together – fish, birds, the atmosphere and water, and humans. To me it makes sense to, as they say, “think global, act local” and do what I can for my environment, which includes the bay. When it comes down to it, the forces for harming the environment are actually really small efforts piloted all over the world, and maybe the antidote for that is the same; millions of small efforts to preserve the earth spread all over the world. My territory in this little struggle is in part the Save the Bay swim. There are many Rhode Islanders, like myself, who cannot be in the Bay at that particular day and time – also there’s a limit to the number of swimmers. So, the idea of the virtual swim is to make the event even more accessible to even more people who can do it wherever they can find the time and the water. I hope next year the Save the Bay organization will adopt the virtual swim as another way to participate in the program.

For more information about the Save the Bay Swim for Narragansett Bay, click here.