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Swim for Shockoe Shows Heart

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Twenty-three swimmers took the plunge to complete as many laps as possible in 30 minutes. "They could swim, hop or float, however they could to get across the pool," says Jody Young, director of recreation at the 111-year-old home for the physically challenged. Their spirit and determination paid off. They raised $2,495.20 in pledges.

Ben Armbruster, project development manager with the city's Department of Economic Development, accepted the money on behalf of Shockoe residents and business owners. Amid the outpouring of community support for the Bottom's flood victims, Armbruster says, this drive stands out.

First, individual donors supported each swimmer, resulting in hundreds of checks. And, he says, it's impossible not to consider the source. The 129 residents of The Virginia Home know what it's like to face challenges, to feel displaced and to be isolated. They range in age from their early 20s to their early 80s and suffer from an array of physical disabilities. But their abilities — such as swimming — shine.

What's more, the home certainly could have used the money. It's struggled with a seven-year waiting list for new residents and an unprecedentedly large capital campaign. The home finally completed construction on a much-needed renovation.

But the residents felt drawn to help the disaster victims. "Everybody felt a little helpless," Young recalls of the residents' response to Gaston. And unlike past years when it's been difficult to decide which charity the aquathon would benefit, this year's vote for the flood victims was unanimous.

After the event, awards and certificates were handed out, along with specially made T-shirts reading "I support the Shockoe Bottom relief effort." The superlatives were many. Swimmer Mary Jane Montgomery raised the most money: $489. Christine Newbold swam the most laps: 58. Chris Payton was declared most spirited. And Tom Conner and Frenchie Hart tied, sharing the title of most enthusiastic new participants. "It's empowering," Young says, "a good event in which everybody wins." — Brandon Walters

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