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Charity swimmer rounds L.I., stops in Bayside

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Sunburned, sore but enthusiastic, charity swimmer Tom Gallagher was out of the water Friday evening to greet friends and passersby outside C. J. Sullivan’s American Grill in Bayside for a fund-raiser as he neared the end of his journey traveling around the perimeter of Long Island.

Gallagher made news last week for more than just his charitable efforts to swim around the entire length of Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens to raise $1 million for Plainview’s Association for Children with Down’s Syndrome. He was nearly arrested in the waters outside Riker’s Island last week when prison officials mistook him for an escapee.

“They scared the heck out of me,” said Gallagher, 37. “They really came at me.”

The escaped prisoner authorities had mistaken Gallagher for — Carlos Zufriatequi of Rego Park — was found Sunday hiding in an empty prison building on Riker’s Island, police said.

Riker’s Island officials, seeing Gallagher swimming alongside his guideboats just off the shoreline from the prison on June 13, thought he was Zufriatequi but later admitted the error and wished Gallagher good luck.

Despite the setback, which brought renewed attention to the Seaford, L.I. resident and his “Great Long Island Swim,” Gallagher said Friday night the trip that began in Bellport, near the eastern end of Long Island’s south shore, was going well.

“We reached the 59th Street Bridge today,” he said. “I’m sore everywhere — my shoulders and elbows feel like shattered glass.”

Sebastian Muzio, executive director of the Association for Children with Down’s Syndrome, or ACDS, said the 35-year-old school serves children throughout Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island and was in desperate need of Gallagher’s charity swim.

“This will help get the school out of debt,” he said. “We would like to raise enough money to get our own building.”

The school provides Down’s Syndrome kids with a variety of therapies, Muzio said, including speech, physical and occupational therapies and operates three group homes in Nassau County.

Gallagher, who credits ACDS with saving his Down’s Syndrome afflicted 3-year-old son, is a member of the school’s board of directors.

“ACDS is the only school of its type in the nation,” he said. “This is an opportunity for us to spread the word.”

Gallagher has been swimming for four to five hours a day for 25 days and has raised roughly $170,000 for the school so far.

To donate to the swim or ACDS, call 1-866-LUV-ACDS. To track Gallagher’s progress, go online to www.acds.org.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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