Simsbury Man Swims To Honor The Memory of His Daughter

A Simsbury man finds solace in swimming after death of his daughter

SIMSBURY — Seven years ago, Paul Epstein competed in the United States Masters Swimming 10K National Championships, which was held in at Huntington Bay, on the north shore of Long Island.

He was swimming in the memory of a friend, Dave Parcells, and in support of Lea's Foundation for Leukemia Research.

Epstein never finished the race, which was called off after several hours due to an unusually strong tidal current.

This year, he returned to the Masters race, held Aug. 23 in Lake George, N.Y. But this time, he was swimming in the memory of his daughter Serena.

"I did this largely for my daughter, who had died three years ago," said Epstein. "I did this to honor her memory — that was one of the reasons I wasn't about to stop, I was going to finish it no matter what."

Epstein, 68, of Simsbury, an associate professor of cell biology at UConn Health, said the loss of his daughter in 2011 was devastating. She committed suicide at age 27.

"It's hard to grapple with. It's just unbelievable because she was sweet and extremely beautiful ... She'd walk into a room and could engage anybody in anything," he said.

Epstein said his daughter, a 2007 University of Connecticut graduate, loved plants and started a landscape design business. Some of her work included the landscape design of the bridges in Willimantic and the redesign of the Hillstead Museum gardens in Farmington.

"I've been trying to deal with how to go on since she died because she was such a large part of my life," Epstein said. "Right after this happened, I could hardly do anything, but eventually I got back to swimming and that helped me a lot. I decided to do this [race] in her memory."

Last month, Epstein completed three major swimming events in three weeks, starting with a 2-mile open water race in Lake Placid, where the air temperature was 46 degrees.

A week later, he entered the USMS 10K National Championships at Lake George. With his daughter Naomi by his side as his personal kayaker, Epstein swam four loops around a 2.5K rectangle.

Epstein said he was feeling tired, but he wasn't going to give up: "I just thought about Serena." He finished fourth in his age group with a time of 3:56:47 and then went on to complete a 5-miler at the Quassapaug Sailing Center ini Middlebury.

Epstein said that Serena used to kayak alongside him during open water swims in the Long Island Sound. "It was our tradition in a way," he said.

He said it means a lot to swim in his daughter's memory. "I also in part did this thinking it would bring the rest of the family together," Epstein said. He said his wife, Grace, and daughter Naomi made the trip. "It was good to have them — it was very supportive."

Epstein, who has a third daughter, Alisa, and a 1-year-old granddaughter, Tulsea Serena, said that he's realized how fragile life is.

"It's been hard. I just feel that there's two ways you can go. You can just give up on life or you can keep going."

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