Written By: Robert Cocuzzo | Photography By: Kit Noble
How lifelong summer resident Grant Wentworth is bravely swimming across Nantucket Sound to battle cancer on the island.
By the time you read this, any number of things could have happened to Grant Wentworth. If all went to plan, he entered the ocean sometime after midnight on the shores of Seagull Beach in West Yarmouth, MA during the last week of July. He then swam between twelve and fifteen hours through the night and into the next day, crossing Nantucket Sound east of the ferry route, braving ripping currents and great white sharks, before reaching the shores of Children’s Beach on Nantucket. Regardless of the outcome of the swim, one thing’s for certain: Grant Wentworth’s heroic effort has raised over $100,000 for Swim Across America, every dollar of which will benefit cancer patients right here on the island.
Looking out upon a heavy shroud of fog hovering over Nantucket Harbor, Grant Wentworth cuts an imposing figure. At six feet eight inches tall with a wingspan just as long, the twenty-eight-year-old is a hydrodynamic specimen possessing broad shoulders and zero body fat. While studying at Princeton, Wentworth played forward in intramural basketball and rowed men’s heavyweight JV crew, but amazingly enough, he never swam a competitive lap in the pool. It was only after graduation, when he injured his back during basic training for the Marine Corps, that Wentworth first put on a cap and goggles.
I started swimming just as a rehab exercise,” he says. “At first getting a couple laps in was a big deal, but then I decided to get in the open water and signed up for a couple really short distance events, like one kilometer, one mile.” One of these events was Swim Across America on Nantucket. Wentworth loved the experience, and when he learned about an English Channel relay that was being organized by Swim Across America, he joined the five-man team. They made the crossing in twelve hours and raised $60,000 for Swim Across America nationally.
After the English Channel crossing, Wentworth caught the bug for long-distance endurance swims, and before long he set his sights on conquering the body of water that defined his childhood — Nantucket Sound. “I’ve been looking at this body of water my entire life thinking is this something that’s possible?” he says. “Basically one person has done it. Back in ’86 someone swam from Nantucket to the Cape, but no one’s actually come from the Cape to Nantucket.”
Although the crossing would be an enormous accomplishment on its own, Wentworth wanted it to have greater significance. He pledged to do the swim as a fundraiser for Swim Across America on Nantucket, and within six months he had raised over $100,000. “Within the first month, we got to $50,000,” he said. “So then we said, how about we shoot for $100,000?” By Memorial Day, he had passed that mark. “All of that has come from off island, and every dollar of that stays here on island.” Most recently, an anonymous donor pledged an additional $25,000 to Wentworth’s crossing. Now Grant’s goal is to exceed $150,000.
Wentworth talks about the work of Swim Across America and the patients whom the foundation helps with a passion that dispels any questions about whether the fundraising component is only a footnote to his swim. “Obviously cancer is something that’s touched all of our lives,” he says. “Just in the last couple years I’ve lost an uncle and a grandparent to the disease. Swim Across America brings oncologists from Mass General to the Cottage Hospital to help with cancer care on island. They’re bringing the best cancer care in the world to Nantucket.” This oncology program costs just over $400,000 to run annually, and between the fundraising associated with Swim Across America event held on island this August and Wentworth’s solo swim, the cost of that program could be
While the fundraising effort may have been easier than he thought, Wentworth’s training for this swim has been absolutely rigorous. For two years, Wentworth has logged thousands of hours in the water, battling through fatigue, loneliness, and the sheer monotony of staring at the bottom of a pool for up to six hundred lengths at a time. Not all his training, however, has taken place in between the lines of the pool.
Throughout the year, Wentworth spent a significant amount of time in the ocean — even in the dead of winter on Nantucket. “I have a rule: whenever I am on island, I get in the water,” Wentworth says. “This can be once a month or several times, as it was this December.” So it was that as Nantucket Sound slushed over in February, the swimmer could be found trudging through the snow in nothing but a speedo for a quick dunk in the ocean. “A couple minutes in February is worth an hour in May,” Wentworth says. “Even just for a couple minutes, I got in the water every time I was up here. You got a lot of people shaking their heads, or are worried about you, but it helps your body acclimatize to the cold.”
Of all the questions he gets asked about the swim, sharks are top of the list. “I look at it as something entirely out of my control,” he says. “If that’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. I can train my body for the distance, I can train for the cold, but sharks are not something I can train for.” Instead, he’s improving his chances of survival by employing a team of shark specialists who will jump into the water and fend off any predators that come into his vicinity.
Beyond that, Wentworth will need to be completely self-reliant in the water. Although he will have a team of kayakers, a support boat carrying coaches, EMTs and Swim Across America personnel, and a pilot boat to guide him the thirty miles to Nantucket, Wentworth is following strict guidelines that make this endurance swim a very rigorous endeavor. No matter the water temperature, he can only wear a speedo, cap and goggles. He cannot come out of the water or even hold on to the side of the boat for a rest. Food and water will be thrown to him in a water bottle. “Anyone that knows the Sound in Nantucket knows that within the twelve to fifteen hours that it could take me to cross, we could see some very different wind speeds, current directions and so forth, which could make this an incredibly difficult endeavor if the weather doesn’t cooperate. That’s my biggest fear.”
N Magazine interviewed Grant Wentworth just before he attempted his Nantucket Sound crossing. Read on below for the post-swim update.
Perhaps what was most remarkable about watching Grant Wentworth exit the water after swimming across Nantucket Sound from Cape Cod was just how unremarkable it was. Flanked by boats, kayaks and a team of divers, Wentworth touched the sandy bottom of Great Point and strode onto the beach with the nonchalance of having just hopped in for a dip. He didn’t raise his arms in victory or yell out in jubilation. He didn’t crawl out onto the beach in a dramatic display of fatigue or weep tears of joy. No, Grant Wentworth kissed his girlfriend, embraced his parents and then quietly thanked each member of his team and the others gathered on the beach. There was no speech, no grand proclamations. The accomplishment alone said plenty.
“When I saw the sand coming beneath me, a moment I thought about countless times in the pool, and when I got my first foot down on terra firma, it was an extraordinarily humbling moment,” Grant Wentworth says nearly a week after his swim. “It was just reflective. I was thinking more about how amazing it was that we just did this.” In the twelve hours and one minute it took him to cross the sound—the first time anyone has ever swam from Cape Cod to Nantucket—Wentworth battled strong currents and the ever-looming threat of sharks. He entered the water at 4:30 that morning on the shores of Seagull Beach on Cape Cod, taking advantage of a favorable weather window to make the attempt. Nine hours later, with Great Point Lighthouse protruding from the horizon like a tiny chess piece, things began to get increasingly difficult.
Unbeknownst to Wentworth, his team spotted a shark about a mile off Great Point, prompting his crew of professional shark divers to form a tight unit around him. Then a far more unwieldy force came into play. “The current was moving us away from the point and out to Monomoy Island and out to the Atlantic,” he says. “So the last couple hours were a struggle.” In these moments of desperation, Wentworth thought about his team, his family, all those who contributed to his fundraising effort, and ultimately to the people receiving cancer treatment on Nantucket whom would benefit from his effort. Digging deep, the twenty-eight-year-old found another gear, and fought two hours through the current to reach the beach.
“Hopefully its inspiring to other people to go after that big challenge in life,” Wentworth says when pressed to reflect on what his swim represents. “Hopefully—and Swim Across America has been doing a great job with this for a while—but hopefully this swim is just one more thing that raises awareness, particularly in the summer community, to the programs on island and ways that we can be helpful and productive.” To date, Grant Wentworth’s swim has raised over $150,000 for cancer care on Nantucket.
Thankfully, you don’t need to swim across Nantucket Sound to contribute to cancer care on the island. On August 22nd, Swim Across America will be hosting its annual fundraising event on Jetties Beach. For more information, click here.