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Monday, April 2, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Swim fund-raiser turns out to be a Sound proposition

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Quite a gesture it was - getting up at 3 a.m., tugging on a wetsuit and jumping into the dark, choppy, 42-degree waters of Puget Sound for a 4½-mile swim against the strong southward pull of the tides.

And so it was that during the chilly predawn hours yesterday, friends Bob Donovan and Paul Zimmerman set out on their swim. They were aiming to go the 3.6 miles from the Whidbey Island ferry dock in Clinton across the water to Mukilteo, to raise money for PAWS, the Progressive Animal Welfare Society in Lynnwood.

Instead, Donovan, 41, the manager of Kenmore Camera, and Zimmerman, 27, a program manager at Microsoft, ended up swimming an extra mile, fighting the tides that tried to pull them to Seattle. They landed on a strip of beach at Mukilteo State Park, the chase boats full of onlookers clapping and cheering, snapping pictures and blaring their horns.

The wind was bracing as Donovan and Zimmerman slogged on shore, chucked their gear on the rocky beach and wrung themselves out. Even Furby, the Labrador retriever that PAWS volunteers brought out to greet the two - thinking a Lab's love of the water was guaranteed - didn't want any part of it, springing back from the water's edge.

"That was fun," Donovan said, then paused. "Well '`fun' probably isn't the right word."

The two had set out with three chase boats, three kayakers, medical personnel and PAWS staff to monitor their journey. About halfway through the swim, the powerful currents began sweeping Donovan and Zimmerman out to Seattle. Twice they had to get pulled out by chase boats and repositioned along their course.

"Oh yeah, we were making great time. That way," said Donovan, pointing south.

"We thought we'd have some coffee at Pike Place Market," joked Zimmerman.

The two men pulled off their wetsuits and gloves and examined their pruney hands, insisting they hadn't been cold. "Hmm," Donovan said, "my fingers aren't really moving like they should."

The two men swam across Lake Washington to raise money for PAWS last year. This year they wanted to up the ante a bit, adding on the challenges of the tides, the ferries, the salt and the cold. Washington State Ferries gave special permission for the event.

"They came to us," said Richard Huffman, outreach director for PAWS. "We thought, oh, gosh, maybe they're a little crazy."

Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the PAWS Lynnwood Wildlife Center.

They had chosen the swim because they knew they could pull it off and thought it was "something the average guy could do." But everybody gathered on the small strip of beach knew it was no ordinary feat, including Donovan's and Zimmerman's supporters, who have pledged $2,700.

"This guy just gave me a check for $100," crowed Donovan. "But that was only if I lived."

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