WORCESTER COUNTY, Mass. - The Wild Bill Yorzyk Swim & Paddle Challenge on Aug. 7 pays homage to Olympian and East Brookfield resident, Dr. William “Bill” Yorzyk.
Yorzyk's daughter, Jennifer Yorzyk Triger organized the Wild Bill Yorzyk Swim & Paddle challenge to honor her father.
The event at Quacumquasit Pond and Quaboag Pond that runs through Brookfield, East Brookfield, and Sturbridge also raises funds for the Quacumquasit Pond Phosphorus Inactivation Project to treat the water without the use of harmful chemicals.
The Swim & Paddle challenge welcomes swimmers of all ages and abilities who just want to have fun and enjoy the sport. The day’s events are a three-mile open water swim, a one-mile open water swim, a one-mile paddleboard/swim, and a 400-yard swim.
Non-swimmers will also enjoy the food trucks, face painting, music and Vintage Bathing Beauties & Blokes Pageant which features vintage swimsuits from the 50s.
Yorzyk was only 16 years old when he began studying at Springfield College. A highly intelligent man from immigrant parents, Yorzyk was pursuing a degree in medicine when an encounter with Springfield Swimming Coach Charles “Red” Silvia would immerse Yorzyk into the world of competitive swimming, forever changing his life.
Under Coach Silvia’s training and guidance, Yorzyk, who began as a freshman student who could not swim at all, beat incredible odds as he represented the United States in the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. Yorzyk won a gold medal in the 200-meter butterfly event and innovated a dolphin-kick swimming technique, which revolutionized the world of competitive swimming.
Yorzyk broke 11 world records and was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1971.
Besides being a champion swimmer, Yorzyk was a skilled anesthesiologist who made great strides in medicine when he brought pain clinics and epidurals into Western Massachusetts hospitals where such pain management was not being used.
After Yorzyk retired in 1996, he and his wife, Carrol, moved to East Brookfield near South Pond, where they spent 30 years enjoying the nature at the lake and passing down the love of swimming to their children and grandchildren who frequented the lake. Described as a humble man, Yorzyk did not seek the celebrity associated with his many accomplishments and even donated his Olympic gold medal to Springfield College. Yorzyk died in 2020 at 87.
Triger and her children are all very active and competitive swimmers following in her father’s footsteps. “We all feel most comfortable in the water,” she said.
She was first inspired to create the Wild Bill swim challenge after receiving handwritten thank you cards from children who took part in a swim class sponsored in her father’s honor.
Later, she participated in an open swim where the funds were donated to the preservation of the lake where the swim took place. By combining these two ideas, Triger was able to create a family fun event that gets children interested in the sport while benefitting the community.
“I thought, what if I just organize a swim and it just all came together those two things? The fundraising side of things, this year, is 100% for the treatment of the pond but in following years, because I believe this to be the inaugural event, it will be partial for the sustainability of the pond, but a big part of it will go towards some type of swimming scholarship,” Triger said, explaining her ultimate vision for the swim challenge.
As the August event comes around, Triger is looking for volunteers and sponsors who want to make this first event the start of many to come.