17 swimmers took on St. Johns river for loved ones

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --- Dozens of swimmers proved they are not afraid to take a dip in the St. Johns River.

Most of the swimmers say they are jumping in because they are supporting their loved ones who are battling illnesses.

The swim, kayak and boating day is part of an annual six mile event put on by, The Jumping Fish Organization.

Jim Alabiso is the Executive Director of The Jumping Fish. He says the swim has grown tremendously over the last five years.

"We have 16 or 17 swimmers swimming from JU to the Riverside Arts Market and we have a flotilla of awesomeness going straight through down town," said Alabiso.

Swimmer, Ian Cherry, says the swim is a great way to get in the water.

"We want people to be aware that this river actually exists and it's not just a river to drive right over on the Main Street bridge. It's a great source of recreation," said Cherry.

While it is a workout to promote athletics on the river it's also to raise money for the Special Olympics Swim Team of Duval County.

Lauren Gianino jumped in the river for two reasons. Not only is she a special needs teacher, but she's swimming in support of her friends Joni Roberts and Theo Ibay, who is supporting her from his hospital bed.

Gianino says, "He's very sick with leukemia so he wrote his name on my arm and I wanted to do it in honor of him. This one goes out to you, Theo!"

Gianino's friend, Joni Roberts is suffering from breast cancer. Roberts participates in the swim each year, but this year she is cheering on her friends from the dock due to her chemotherapy.

Despite recent studies showing traces of flesh-eating bacteria in the river, the swimmers are not alarmed.

"If you have a weakened immune system and this is something you are afraid of, then you don't want to do it. But, healthy people, there is nothing to be worried about. It's such a minuscule piece of the water and you swim in the ocean, it's there too," said Cherry.

According to the Duval County Health department a 7-year-old who was swimming in the river contracted a case of vibrio vulnificus -- the bacteria that can lead to the "flesh eating." The health department urges swimmers to stay cautious, but not alarmed.

Gianino says nothing is stopping her from supporting her friends.

"[Theo] said he's honored but be careful in the St. Johns River. We just love open-water swimming, everyone here is very passionate about that and any chance we get...we take it," said Gianino.


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