MARY-KATE POULIN, FAR RIGHT, and her fellow swimmers pose the day of their two-mile swim across the Great Sacandaga Lake.
MARY-KATE POULIN, FAR RIGHT, and her fellow swimmers pose the day of their two-mile swim across the Great Sacandaga Lake.
The Poulin family's home overlooks the Great Sacandaga Lake. Though daughter Mary-Kate is an accomplished competitive swimmer, her parents always cautioned that if she was going to swim across a lake that large, it needed to be for a cause.

A little over a month ago, Karen Poulin and her daughter found their cause: the organization Autism Speaks.

On Aug. 7, Mary-Kate and three of her fellow varsity swimmers from Gloversville High School swam the 2.1 miles across Lake Sacandaga to raise money for the organization, which supports autism awareness, research and education.

They set out for the "Swim for Autism" at 6:20 a.m., when it was just bright enough to see and the dark waters were not yet crowded by the daily boat and jet ski traffic.

"It is dangerous to cross the lake," said Mrs. Poulin, "but I had full confidence she could do it."

Mary-Kate, a junior and parishioner of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Northville, has been swimming competitively since she was nine years old.

Plunging in
A member of the varsity swim team, she's more used to pools than lakes, but the difference and the distance weren't of much concern for the 15-year-old. She has covered up to 8,000 yards - well over four miles - during swim practice alone.

"She's strong, she's an athlete and she had her father following them on a jet ski, as well as her uncles and cousins in the boats, to make sure they were all safe," Mrs. Poulin told The Evangelist.

Also riding in one of the boats was Mary-Kate's brother, who was part of her inspiration for the event. Mikey, 14, has Asperger's syndrome, a disorder on the autism spectrum that affects one in 110 children.

"We love Mikey and know how special of a kid he is," said Mary-Kate, "so I wanted to raise awareness for people like him and help people recognize and accept them for who they are, as well as [raising awareness of] those worse off."

The event was a family affair. Mary-Kate's father, Michael, took care of logistics and safety concerns; her youngest brother, Sam, lent his support; Mrs. Poulin dealt with the press and helped Mary-Kate in her fundraising efforts.

Among friends
Justine and Jade Woodend and Chris Mosconi, who are friends of the family and fellow members of the Gloversville-Mayfield Sea Dragons swim team, swam alongside Mary-Kate. All four swimmers hold individual and relay records for their team and have competed at the state level.

"I knew that those three were in shape and could handle the distance," said Mary-Kate, "and I knew that they'd want to do anything if it helped Mikey."

With the support of St. Francis of Assisi parish, local businesses, family and friends, the Swim for Autism raised more than $7,000 for Autism Speaks. Mary-Kate already has plans for a similar event next year, as well - "pumped up" to even greater heights.

"She's capable of great things," Mrs. Poulin declared. "We've always known it - this is just the kind of kid she is. She'd do anything for her brother."

After 58 minutes in the early-morning waters of Sacandaga Lake, all four swimmers reached the other side. There, they were joined by a few latecomers: Mikey and his friends jumped into the water and finished the journey with them.