NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — Veronica Berounsky has lived on Narrow River for 30 years and swims in it regularly, but its beauty and natural diversity never cease to amaze her.
Berounsky and two companion swimmers got to experience that beauty up close last month when they took the plunge and swam the entire length of the river, which straddles Narragansett and South Kingstown, as part of a fundraiser.
“I got in the water just before seven, the sunrise had been earlier and the sun was rising over the trees, it was just gorgeous,” Berounsky said. “We had great weather.”
Berounsky, a coastal ecologist, was joined by Lori Pugh, an internationally recognized artist from North Kingstown; and Keith Ballard, owner of the Wakefield Running Company, to take part in the Source to Sea Swim.
The six-mile swim from Gilbert Stuart Stream in North Kingstown to the mouth of the river in Narragansett took the trio about four hours. They were watched by kayakers Jerry Prezioso and Sharon MacLean, who provided support and took photos along the way.
The aim of the swim was to raise money for the local nonprofit Narrow River Preservation Association (NRPA) during its 50th year, and to highlight the river as a wonderful place to swim.
The organization raised more than $2,000, according to Berounsky, who is its vice president as well as chair of the Rhode Island Rivers Council.
The trio encountered plenty of wildlife along the flat, calm waters of upper and lower ponds. They saw soft-shell clams, eel grass and blue mussels as they made their way down the river to their destination.
“To see for myself, it was really fun. It was a nice biology lesson,” Berounsky said. “Along the western shore we saw all this splashing. We figured they were bait fish coming down the river. This is the right time of year for the herring that run up to Gilbert Stuart in spring and spawn there. The juveniles are going back to sea at this time of year. Maybe it was them.”
Berounsky also liked being able to see the clear bottom of the river and observe the change in its salinity.
“In the ponds there are a lot of oysters, particularly just before Bridgetown bridge,” Berounsky said. “The bottom is paved with oysters.”
The group also wore little socks on their feet during the swim.
“If we had to stand up, you don’t want to stand on oysters,” Berounsky said.
And it was easy for the small group to observe COVID-19 precautions, such as social distancing, by swimming far enough apart from each other.
“We had to cancel our road race and swim (the annual Turnaround Swim, held in June), we just couldn’t have them this year. This was something we could do,” Berounsky said.
The swim also served as Berounsky’s fundraiser for Donate Life, an organization that has been close to her ever since she gave a kidney to her cousin six years ago.
“With kidneys and liver, you can donate as a living person,” she said. “He’s doing fine.”
Training and doing the swim were no different for Berounsky, who trained with daily two-mile swims. She wanted to spread the message that donation doesn’t radically change the donor’s life – other than in the positive way of helping others.
“I’ve only got one kidney, and can swim six miles,” she said. I’m perfectly fine.”