The Sudbury Synchro Swim Club has a title to defend this October.
Last year, the club raised more than $14,400 for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF) at the annual Burning Bright for Breast Cancer relay event. Sudbury was the top fundraising club of 47 clubs in the province. It was also the fourth year in a row they claimed the designation.
On Oct. 25, as the swimmers dive into the pool for the ninth annual Burning Bright for Breast Cancer event, their hearts will be set on claiming that title once again.
The event is held annually by member clubs of Synchro Swim Ontario. The evening involves the participants keeping a candle burning within the pool for a minimum of one hour, during which time swimmers hand off the torch to the next swimmer in a relay.
In the past six years alone, Sudbury Synchro has raised nearly $50,000 for the CBCF. Province-wide, the campaign has brought in more than $292,000.
The drive for the Sudbury swimmers to raise more and more money each year stems from one woman in particular. Myra Gerow, the mother of club member Elizabeth Sweeney, passed away in July 2011 after a decade-long battle with breast cancer. Gerow was a passionate advocate for breast cancer research throughout her life, leading a CIBC Run for the Cure team, which helped Sudburians raise more than $325,000 for breast cancer research. Of that money, Gerow came up with at least $90,000 herself. She also co-ordinated the Burning Bright campaign each year.
Last year, after Gerow passed away, Synchro Swim Ontario named the province's top fundraising club award, the Myra Gerow Award. Naturally, it's an award the Sudbury club won't let fall from their grasp.
Gerow set a precedent when it came to bringing in money for cancer research and it's a trait she passed down to her daughter, who continues to carry that torch her mother lit years ago.
"Fundraising for breast cancer has just always been part of my life," Sweeney said.
"(My mom) always raised so much money on her own and I felt the need to do that, too."
The 15-year-old Lasalle Secondary student said it's difficult to remember a time when her family wasn't dealing with breast cancer. It's her experience with the disease that pushes her to continue raising more money.
"Every year, I just want to do better because I've seen so many people affected by the disease," she said. "It's just really something I work for."
Last year, Sweeney, who has been with the Synchro Club for the past nine years, raised $2,700. It marked the sixth consecutive year of bringing in the most pledges of any swimmer in Ontario. This year, her goal is $3,000.
She said it's an incredible feeling knowing her entire club is following her same drive and bringing in unprecedented amounts of money for breast cancer research through their fundraising.
"Everybody in the club is just motivated to do it, I think," Sweeney said. "You don't expect people to raise that much on their own. Everyone has just been touched in some way, especially my close friends that also swim. But it's incredible to see everyone come together like this."
Last year marked an all-time high for Sudbury Synchro, surpassing their 2010 total by roughly $5,000. It was also the highest amount ever raised by an Ontario club.
Sudbury Synchro head coach Lindsay Wandziak said "Burning Bright has become a very big part" of the club.
"It represents one our swimmer's mothers," she said. "(Myra Gerow) made Burning Bright into what it is today."
She said her swimmers have a lot of spirit, and "it is the spirit they have for the sport that makes it easy for them to want to raise so much money for Burning Bright."
Wandziak commended Sweeney for the amount of money she has brought in each year.
"It's mind-boggling that a young girl has been able to raise the most money in the province for several years in a row, without really any contention. It's not like she raised $1 more than anybody else, it's a substantial amount."
In fact, the club's efforts as a whole are commendable.
"It's a little bit overwhelming to see everybody together and knowing how much everybody fundraised. It's really a club event."
As part of the fundraiser, pink rubber duckies are being sold for a minimum of $5. The club's goal is to "fill the pool with hope," with 1,500 rubber duckies floating in the water with the swimmers throughout the relay. Sponsors will be invited to dedicate their duckies on corresponding duckie cards that will form a Wall of Hope at the event.
Participating swimmers will also be wearing pink swimming caps. Spectators are invited to dress in pink as well.
The relay runs from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Jeno Tihanyi Pool at Laurentian University.
For more information, visit sudburysynchro.com.