SWIMMING LAPS IN the heated indoor pool at the Community Center in Severna Park helps keep a person in condition and one step ahead of the winter doldrums. It's the next best thing to being in Florida. (Well, almost.)
But, there's another important reason to take up swimming: the February Fitness Frolic, a monthlong fund-raiser during which swimmers keep a tally of the yards they swim.
All money collected - from the swimmers' $10 entry fees and from sponsors who pay by the yard swum - is donated to the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center Patient and Family Fund.
Frolic coordinator Bill Conroy of Crofton says he borrowed the idea for the frolic from an Oregon swim club that earns money by collecting entry fees from swimmers who join the club's annual nationwide competition. In the Oregon program, the only beneficiary is the club.
"Our frolic has no administrative costs," Conroy says, "because everyone is a volunteer. One hundred percent of the money goes to the Hopkins cancer patient fund."
The fund provides money for necessities not covered by insurance. When the parents of a baby who had received a bone marrow transplant couldn't afford a crib, money from the fund was used to buy one for them. When a terminally ill patient couldn't travel to his home state to see his baby born, the fund bought a video camera to record the event.
Once a need has been established by a social worker, no questions are asked for requests up to $500, said fund director Viki Anders, a Hopkins oncology nurse practitioner.
Conroy also swims at Arundel Swim Center in Annapolis with the Arundel Breakfast Club, a group of swimmers who decided last year to organize a frolic of their own with a worthwhile cause. They found what they were looking for in the Hopkins fund run by Anders, a fellow competitive and open-water swimmer.
In 1995, Anders swam 28 1/2 miles around Manhattan in honor of one of her cancer patients. Thus was born the Plunge for Patients, now an annual event and the primary fund-raiser for the Hopkins cancer patient fund.
"The plunge takes place in Wildwood, N.J., the last weekend in June every year," Anders says. "The athletes wear patients' names on their arms."
The plunge, which in recent years has attracted nearly 300 participants, has been expanded to include beach races.
Swimmers tend to be "Type A's," says Anders, 51. She holds a demanding job as Hopkins' coordinator for bone marrow transplant patients who have complications. But she will find time to compete with the team representing Severna Park Community Center's SPY Aquatics pool at the YMCA national competitions in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in April.
Conroy, a computer hardware salesman, was a competitive swimmer in grade school and won a swimming scholarship to LaSalle University in Philadelphia.
He is a member of the Masters swim program for adults at the SPY pool. (The pool is run by the staff that coached swimming when the facility was the Severna Park YMCA.)
Last year, more than 50 swimmers signed on for the first February frolic, earning nearly $3,000 in entry fees and sponsorships for the cancer fund.
Conroy says he's not sure how much money will be raised this year.
"Our challenge this year is to get more swimmers involved," Conroy says. "I've e-mailed the entry form to more than 600 swimmers involved in Maryland Masters."
He considers the dead of winter a perfect time to begin training to get into shape for summer competition.
"The idea is to motivate swimmers in February to be in the water, training, and benefit cancer patients," Conroy says. "Name me a person whose life hasn't been affected by cancer."
For information about the February Fitness Frolic, call SPY Aquatics at 410-647-5843.
Severna Park Kiwanis Club members, those wizards of the kitchen, will prepare a Saturday morning breakfast of pancakes and sausages from 8 a.m. to noon Feb. 16 at St. Martin's-in-the-Field Episcopal Church on Benfield Road in Severna Park.
Tickets - $5 for adults and $3 for children 12 and younger - may be purchased at the door. All proceeds benefit the local charities sponsored by the Kiwanis Club.
Information: 410-647-5069 or 410-544-5648.