Crossing for a cause: Local man attempts to swim across Chesapeake Bay for Ainsley’s Angels

10 On Your Side

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A local man is raising money for special needs children in Hampton Roads.

Robert Cass attempted to swim across the Chesapeake Bay to raise money for children living with a disability through the organization, Ainsley’s Angels.

Cass trained 14 months for a 14-mile swim across the Chesapeake Bay. For the last year, a pink swim cap and swimming goggles were much like his everyday uniform and the water behind Buoy 44 was his training ground.

“You lose all sense of time,” said Cass. “You think about God, your family, the people you want to be around.”

He wants to be around people like Kim Rooster Rossiter, who is the founder/president of Ainsley’s Angels. The organization was born in Virginia Beach, but with 70 locations across the country, Ainsley’s Angels brings athletes of all ages and members of the special needs community together through the inclusion of endurance events.

The organization is the reason why Cass wants to raise $50,000 dollars to help buy wheelchairs for the special needs community. The organization is named after Rossiter’s daughter Ainsley, who was born with a disorder that attacked her nervous system — a form of dystrophy.

“So, we watched that happen to her from when she was born to when she passed away in 2016. She was expected to live 5 years but she lived until she was 13,” said Rossiter.

According to the organization’s website, Ainsley, was diagnosed with Infantile Neuroaxonal Dystrophy (INAD) just before she turned 4 years-old. INAD is an extremely rare terminal illness.

The National Institutes of Health says people with INAD typically do not have symptoms at birth, but start to experience delays in “acquiring new motor and intellectual skills” between the ages of 6 and 18 months.

Most children with this diagnosis pass on before reaching the age of 10. There is no cure or treatment to help slow down this very progressive and terminal disease.

Rossiter said, “As a father, how amazing is it to sit back and say, my goodness, I have a child who has in such a short amount of time, inspired a movement that is touching thousands, tens of thousands of lives.”

Rossiter watched his daughter light up every time she was able to partake in a physical event. Rossiter often pushed his daughter throughout races and activities. Cass has also been a large part of the organization and pushed a member of the special needs community during a 100 mile Tour De Cure Event.

“Fitness is not only a gift, but a gift you can share with other people who don’t have that gift,” said Cass.

“Trust and know that Ainsley is right there with him, providing her love and her big old smile for support,” said Rossiter.

In the end, Cass did not complete the 14-mile swim.

He swam for 10 hours and got within two miles of Virginia Beach, but the current was pushing him out to sea and he didn’t have enough gas in the tank to outswim it.

Cass wrote afterwards, “In the end I advocated, educated and celebrated inclusion for Ainsley’s Angels and that is everything.”

Head to this link to donate to his cause.

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