YMCA of Southern Maine

For a Better Us.™

Peaks to Portland is fundraising powerhouse

Published 06.07.19
by Anthony Lombardi

“This truly is an event that is crucial to our ability to serve youth in the community,” said Sarah Leighton, the Chief Development Officer of the YMCA of Southern Maine. “It is a life-changing event – not only for the people who are swimming … but for the kids who benefit as a result.”


A race that originated before World War II continues to assist families in Maine.

The annual Peaks to Portland Swim to Benefit Kids, a 2.4-mile, open-water swim from Peaks Island to Portland’s East End Beach, is scheduled for July 20.

Several dozen slots remain open to swimmers and volunteers are still needed for the YMCA of Southern Maine’s biggest fundraiser of the year.

“This truly is an event that is crucial to our ability to serve youth in the community,” said Sarah Leighton, the Chief Development Officer of the YMCA of Southern Maine. “It is a life-changing event – not only for the people who are swimming … but for the kids who benefit as a result.”

Swimmers, ages 16 years and older, of various fitness levels and experiences are invited to participate. The exact date of the first Peaks to Portland Swim is hard to find, but the race started in the 1920s before it was suspended due to the fear of mines in the water during WWII.


Peaks to Portland Swim to Benefit Kids competitor Lesley Hurley, second from right, is cheered on by fellow swimmers at last year’s event. This year’s race is scheduled for July 20 and registration is filling up fast. (Arthur Fink courtesy photo)

The YMCA of Southern Maine restarted the tradition in 1981, and it’s become the organization’s premier event with competitors traveling from as far away as China and Germany to be one of the 500 swimmers who ride the 6:45 a.m. ferry from Casco Bay Lines to Peaks Island.

“It’s inspiring to see such a diverse group of people come together to, not only accomplish it as an event but to help raise money for the Y and our ability to serve,” Leighton said. “Being at this event, witnessing swimmers cross that finish line, is the most inspiring thing that I’ve ever witnessed.”

All participants must qualify by swimming one mile in 40 minutes or less at their local YMCA or pool. If you register after June 1, you must contact the YMCA by email at peakstoportland@ymcaofsouthernmaine.org to arrange an appointment to submit your qualifying time.

The Y offers training classes geared toward first-timers and those who want to improve upon previous performance. One-day clinics at East End Beach, Leighton said, are also in the works.

Registration costs vary based on the amount of money participants choose to raise. Commit to at least $400 and the registration fee is waived as a sign of appreciation. More information can be found online at www.peaksofportland.com.

Leighton advises that people who are interested in participating this year sign up sooner than later as more swimmers register every day and they are approaching the 500-person limit.

Those who wish will also have the option of being placed on a waiting list, and YMCA personnel will do their best to notify those on the list if any changes occur, Leighton said.

All first-time swimmers are required to have a kayaker, but the majority of competitors elect to have one help direct them through the course anyway. Leighton said volunteer kayakers are still needed, as well as timers and general event staff.

“If there are any people who want to volunteer, we’d gladly have them,” she said.

Last year, the YMCA of Southern Maine served approximately 10,000 children, including a young girl named Dizier who lived in an area family shelter with her mother and brother.

Because of funds generated through events such as the Peaks to Portland Swim, Dizier was able to attend the YMCA’s Otter Pond Outdoor Adventure Camp for free, reads the organization’s website.

“It’s something that is incredibly important for youth in their development but also for parents so they can continue to work and find stable housing and other things we often take for granted,” said Leighton. “(Peaks to Portland) is crucial to our ability to be able to serve youth in southern Maine regardless of their ability to pay. That’s a crucial part of the YMCA’s mission.”

Read the story on the Sentry's website.