Harry Swimmer

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Helping Disabled Children Ride Horses for 20 Years

When CNN announced the 10 finalists for its “CNN Heroes” special, 86-year-old Harry Swimmer was eating lox and bagels with family and friends, keeping his best poker face.

Swimmer knew he was a finalist, but he’d signed a confidentiality agreement and kept the news from even his loved ones.

“I have pretty much stayed under the radar most of my life,” Swimmer said. “So to hear I had made it to the 25 cutoff list, from what I hear numbered 50,000 nominees, I was already terribly humbled.”

Swimmer was honored for his charitable organization, the Mitey Riders, which provides therapeutic horse riding for children with physical and learning disabilities. The program is held at the Misty Meadows Farm, Swimmer’s 80-acre horse farm near Charlotte, N.C. The students don’t pay tuition, and many staff members are volunteers. “Up to 70 kids a day are riding our horses,” Swimmer said, estimating a total of nearly 1,000 over the past 22 years.

Swimmer has been connected to Charlotte’s Jewish community for 64 years. He mo ved there in 1951 after graduating from Penn State University, and founded the Swimmer Insurance Agency. In the 1980s, Swimmer led the campaign to fund Shalom Park, a 54-acre wooded campus that today serves as the center of Jewish life in greater Charlotte. In 2014, Swimmer was also honored with a lifetime achievement award from Israel’s International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

“He’s the great connector,” said Susan Swimmer, Swimmer’s niece who is a fashion journalist. “I’ve always joked that I could travel the world and make friends as long as I hung a sign around my neck that says ‘I’m related to Harry Swimmer.’”

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