Why two sisters swim for Buzzards Bay

In a field of 250 swimmers at the 2015 Buzzards Bay Swim, sisters Rachel Ashley and Rebekah Ashley Rubin crossed the finish line in 73rd and 74th place, respectively. It took them just under 33 minutes to swim the 1.2-mile course from New Bedford to Fairhaven. But this is the moment they remember:

sisters Rachel Ashley and Rebekah Ashley Rubin at the 2015 Buzzards Bay Swim

The official time recording at the 2015 Buzzards Bay Swim showed both Ashley sisters both stepping onto the sand at Fort Phoenix at the same second. (Image: Josh Souza)

Usually it was Rebekah, the older sister, who was in the lead. Now 32, she had enjoyed a lifetime of leading little sister Rachel, 30, everywhere, from the time they were toddlers testing out swim goggles in the bathtub. From swimming laps across the family cranberry bog pond in Rochester, to early morning swim lessons at Silvershell Beach in Marion, to the Cape Cod Swim Club pool at Mass Maritime Academy (where both women learned to swim competitively) and on through their high school and college years, Rebekah lead the way and Rachel followed.

Adult life eventually took the place of competitive swimming; Rebekah married and took a job working in biotech in Cambridge, while Rachel finished her degree and decided to move back to the South Coast to practice veterinary medicine. Yet over the years, both women still found time to meet up at the Gleason Family YMCA in Wareham to swim laps together.

Then, one day a family friend suggested they sign up for the Buzzards Bay Swim. After some hesitation from Rachel (“Are you serious?”) and some encouragement from Rebekah (“It will be fun!”), they completed their first Swim in 2014 with the safety net of a kayak escort.

They were both hooked.

“The event is such a fun, exciting, athletic challenge,” Rebekah said. “It’s a real accomplishment to get to the other side and look back and say ‘I swam the Bay!’”

Rachel loved the Swim’s warm, hometown feel, and seeing old friends from the local swimming community. “The mission [of the Swim] is so personal and so cool – you are swimming through the water you are trying to protect.”

For their second Swim, in 2015, they both swam unescorted – just two sisters, with no safety net.

“Usually we stick together in the water, you know, kind of keep an eye on each other,” Rebekah said. But she quickly realized things were different this year. Suddenly, she wasn’t in the lead anymore. “Rachel was kicking butt, she was really on top of her training.”

Rachel demurs with a smile. “I had the better wetsuit,” she said.

As they came out of the water in uncharacteristic fashion – Rachel ahead, with Rebekah lagging a few steps behind her little sister – Rachel’s determination kicked in. “We’ve got to do this together, we’ve got to finish strong,” she remembered thinking. So Rachel reached back and grabbed for her older sister’s hand.

And the two sisters crossed the finish line together. The official time recording showed them both stepping onto the sand at Fort Phoenix at the same second.

This generous spirit of sportsmanship – and sisterhood – will be on full display again at the Buzzards Bay Swim this June when Rebekah and Rachel complete their third Buzzards Bay crossing along with 400 other swimmers and kayakers. Sign up to join them!

Thank you to our sponsors: Amica Insurance, Anderson Insulation, Citizens Commercial Banking, YMCA Southcoast, Fiber Optic Center, and Whaling City Sound. The Buzzards Bay Swim is a Waterkeeper Alliance SPLASH Series event, presented nationally by Toyota. For more information on this national series, please visit waterkeeper.org.

Categories: Events, On the Bay

Swim the Bay, Save the Bay

Buzzards Bay Swim

Celebrate clean water at the Coalition's 31st annual Buzzards Bay Swim on Saturday, June 22, 2024! Join more than 400 others who make a difference to protect clean water in Buzzards Bay. You can swim, volunteer, or cheer on swimmers as they cross outer New Bedford Harbor.

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Working to Save Buzzards Bay

The Buzzards Bay Coalition is a membership-supported organization dedicated to improving the health of the Buzzards Bay ecosystem for all through education, conservation, research, and advocacy.

We work to protect clean water on the Bay and on the land: