By Daniel Tepfer

Staff Writer

BRIDGEPORT — A swimmer most of her life, Lindsay Robillard had always intended to participate in St. Vincent’s Swim Across the Sound Marathon.

“I had wanted to do it for quite some time but it was always, next year, next year, next year,” admitted the 1997 graduate of Jonathan Law High School.

Then her father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and the Swim, which raises money for cancer patient support programs, took on a new perspective.

“I knew I really had to do this. He’s going to go through his treatment and I’m going to train and we are going to do this together,” she said.

But on May 11 Robillard’s father succumbed to his disease and with his death went her enthusiasm for swimming. “My first time back in the water after he passed away was very, very upsetting and I kept thinking to myself, ’I can’t imagine swimming for at least eight hours straight in the Sound by myself thinking about my dad.’ ”

But Robillard said she had already accepted many donations in anticipation of her swimming for the charity. After talking to her family, she decided she would participate, but as part of a team instead of swimming solo.

Robillard swam at Law with Tracie Shock and Alison Kasper, who lost her mother to cancer when she was young, and they agreed to join the team. Then Kirsten Ash, whose mother is a cancer survivor, and Amy Andre, both former Lauralton Hall swimmers, came on board. And finally, Whitney Doel, a Florida swimming all-star who met Robillard at a New Haven training facility, rounded out the team. Team “Seagurls” was born.

Practicing at the pool at the Milford Yacht Club and off Laurel Beach, the six had high hopes of a good showing.

But more than seven hours into the swim Saturday, it was clear the young women were struggling on the 15½-mile course. Battling a strong current and heavy chop, Shock appeared utterly exhausted and was helped up the ladder of their guide boat with more than three miles left to go. But they all managed an enthusiastic wave as the media boat went by.

Even 67-year-old Ann Louise Onton appeared to struggle as she took the last strokes toward the finish line to the cheers of hundreds of fans at Captain’s Cove Seaport.

Using the swim as a warm-up for an English Channel crossing later this month, Onton, formerly of Fairfield and the oldest swimmer in the event, said the current made it slow going at the start. It took her about seven hours and 45 minutes to complete the course.

“It was a good workout,” she admitted.

The Seagurls and Onton were among 280 solo and relay team swimmers who set out Saturday morning from Port Jefferson, N.Y., to Captain’s Cove to raise money for the charity run by the St. Vincent’s Medical Center Foundation.

This year’s event was dedicated to the memory of Maura Marden who, despite battling cancer, completed the swim last year with her husband and three sons. She died a month later.

Contact Daniel Tepfer at 203-330-6308 or dtepfer@ctpost.com. Follow him on twitter.com/dantepfer.