Wednesday, July 6, 2022

This man is swimming the Chesapeake Bay to buy racing wheelchairs

Robert Cass is swimming 14 miles along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to raise $50,000 for Ainsley's Angels. (Southside Daily/Courtesy of Robert Cass)
Robert Cass is swimming 14 miles along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to raise $50,000 for Ainsley’s Angels. (Southside Daily/Courtesy of Robert Cass)

VIRGINIA BEACH — To drive the length of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge from Fisherman’s Island to the Buoy 44 Seafood Grill restaurant on the opposite end would take about 22 minutes, according to GPS.

To swim it, Robert Cass, 51, said it’ll take him about 11 to 14 hours.

“Point-to-point it’s about 14 miles but with currents and tides, the reality is I’m going to swim somewhere between 15 and 16 miles when all is said and done,” Cass said.

On Sep. 5, if everything goes as planned, Cass said he will stand on Fisherman’s Island, the east side of the bridge, when a horn will sound and someone will start a timer, then he’s swimming until his hand touches the sand on the other side in Virginia Beach.

Cass’s endeavor is all for the goal to raise $50,000 for Ainsley’s Angels, an organization that hosts “race series events” allowing people with disabilities to ride in “jogger” wheelchairs and participate in endurance activities like 5ks, marathons, Ragnar races and more recently, triathlons.

“There are two goals here, one is to finish the swim and the other is to raise the money we set out to raise — I really want to buy 10 race chairs,” he said.

A former Navy operation specialist, Cass said he’s always been comfortable in the water but has never considered himself a true swimmer until he started doing triathlons more than four years ago.

“We pioneered a triathlon program for Ainsley’s Angels towing people with special needs on bikes, and in the water, we pull them on boats,” he said. “That’s what I’m most proud of — giving those people with special needs the opportunity to hear a crowd cheer their names while they’re not just running but also biking and swimming.”

A friend who worked in medical care suggested Cass share his “gift of fitness” and become an Angel runner more than three years ago when he said he was pulled by Angel Athlete-Rider, 34-year-old “Uncle Louie” in a Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters’ 5k.

“He was bedridden and catatonic — we took him to Town Pointe Park where everybody was cheering his name and you could see him physically react, waving his arms and smiling,” Cass said. “I thought, this is the reason I’ve been running my whole life.”

Since October, Cass has spent up to five hours, five days a week in the pool and now is focused on spending time in the open water swimming up to 8 hours at a time in the ocean preparing for the greatest swim of his life with the hope more people will have the same moment “Louie” did in that race three years ago.

“Ainsley’s Angels advocates, educates and celebrates inclusion and that’s what we’re doing, finding ways for families to be included in ways they haven’t been before,” he said.

To donate to Cass’ cause and support his goal to reach $50,000 to buy 10 race wheelchairs, click here.

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