Gallagher participated in local Master swimming competitions where he was very successful in his age group. He was a very cheerful, friendly fellow and not your usual breed of competitors. He was all over the pool deck meeting people and shaking hands. He competed in a solo swim around Manhattan Island. A book was written on him by Tim Johnson, "History of Open-Water Marathon Swimming, a cumulative history of every swim around Manhattan leading up to the establishment of the Manhattan marathon".
Gallagher's adoption of this swim changed marathon swimming. Tom Hetzel, a childhood friend of Drury’s from Rockaway, Queens, convinced Drury that a swim around Manhattan would be a source of consolation over the death of his oldest son. Sometimes, it takes the exertion of swimming in a new and different environment, perhaps even dangerous to take a swimmer’s mind off a personal crisis. Swimming places you in the here and now quite literally: take the next stroke; take another breath; rhythmically repeated until exhaustion. After Drury Gallagher Jr. died, this was just what Drury needed. He made a memorial swim around Manhattan on July 19, 1982, to honor his son and establishing a new record, 7:14. Tim Johnson contacted Drury to establish a second swim. Drury’s reply was, “Come on down next month, we’re having a marathon.”
After the first swim competition, Drury began the arduous task of creating an organization that would endure. Drury scheduled the first meeting at the New York Athletic Club’s luxurious wood-paneled conference rooms. This became as aspect of the Manhattan Swim that endures to this date: first class accommodations. Drury threw himself into the task of organizing the swim facing great odds. Not everyone was enthusiastic about people swimming around Manhattan. The Department of Health had ruled that swimming in the waters around Manhattan was prohibited; the police department had arrested swimmers as recently as 1974 for swimming across the Hudson River which put a damper on swimming; and legislation the Harbor Pilots Association had argued before the City Council and won to prohibit swimming was still on the books. These were some of the obstacles we faced in organizing the 2nd annual Manhattan swim set for July 14th 1983. Drury would chair the meetings. He under took the task of raising money for the event as a benefit for Little Flower Children’s Associationby selling raffle tickets to brokers on Wall Street. Tim was assigned the task of obtaining the permission of the US Coast Guard and filed for a nautical parade permit which was issued after we addressed safety concerns that each swimmer be accompanied by a small motorized vessel equipped with a marine radio. Because of a solo swimmer’s use of the floating docks at Asphalt Green Environment Center located on the East River resulted in charges of trespassing, swimmers lost the use of that starting location. Drury spearheaded the search for an alternate starting location and we settled on what is now called the East Side Greenway trail at 96th street. It was at this point that the organization and the Park’s Department began a long association that continues to this day. The police department took issue with the 2nd annual swim during the event. As the swimmers approached the Battery the NYPD Marine division asked us to pull the swimmer from the water because we were not permitted. Drury intervened and insisted that they call the Coast Guard. Based on the permit we had from the Coast Guard we were able to continue the swim. Tim was told that the issue went all the way up the Coast Guard chain-of-command to their Admiral who said, “Let ‘em swim”. For the 3rd annual swim because of the close association that Drury had with the Police Commissioner, another member at the New York Athletic Club, we were able incorporated the police department in the permitting process and they became our friends ever since. They were the lead boat for the 3rd annual swim in 1984.
The following day that became the social highlight of the marathon swimming community around the world. The award ceremony was held at The Water Club which is a five-star restaurant and catering facility on the East River. The restaurant had a floating dock that yachts could tie up to and the hall has a panoramic view of the East River. Swimmers were mesmerized by this view because they swam by this location just the day before and left so much out there on that river. It was at this banquet in 1984 that the word circumswim was introduced to the lexicon by Richard Marks, 2nd place in 1984. One of the funniest lines at the podium came from Green who had swum without an escort boat for the entire swim. He said pointing out the window, “I think I see my escort boat coming now.” The awards banquet contributed to the success of the swim and the repeat business. Swimmers were coming back year-after-year. The banquets just kept getting bigger and bigger until we out grew the accommodations and moved the banquet to South Street Seaport.
Every organization has growing pains and part of reason for this is because organizations are made up of people. Everyone was prone to take positions, felt that a particular issues were important, and wished others would see things their way. With a strong leadership, some issues could be avoided but then personalities began to assert themselves. In 1985 when Joe Coplan and Tim were arguing on the street at 2:00 am outside the hotel about something to do with the swim when Drury intervened and got them to see the bigger picture. The one thing that Drury taught others was to see the bigger picture and settle issues with agreements, to find the common ground and work with others toward achieving that end. He did this with Tim and has been seen him do it at meetings when the board was divided into splinter groups. If either one of the groups would walk out the swim would be over. He could get people to see the greater good and they would find a way to contribute again. The many challenges and under Drury’s leadership we changed boat organizations, ham radio organizations, insurance, personalities, and solved financial problems. Drury could get them to work together to make things happen. He has the ability to make strong personalities share a common goal.
It wasn’t long after the first marathon swim competition on September 14, 1982, that Tim developed a computer model for the swim. When Tim demonstrated the program to Drury Gallagher he arranged for Paul Asmuth to come in to test my hypotenuses that the outcome of a swim is based upon what time in the tide cycle the swimmer entered the water, the speed of the current, and the location of the start. Drury knew that the success of the swim relied upon getting good press and setting records was what publicity was all about. After Paul became the first person to break 7 hours on August 7, 1983, swimming around Manhattan in 6:48 taking a half hour off the record, they began planning for Drury to break Paul’s record. They set the date for this attempt on September 7th, 1983 and decided to send off two swimmers to break the men’s and women’s record. This was to verify another characteristic of the computer program was not yet noticed: a delayed start would put the swimmer in a faster current but possibly jeopardize their rounding of the Battery as the flood would start in the Hudson before they entered the East River. Up until this point, every swim had started at the time ebb current began. Sally Friedman went one hour after ebb started and Drury went two hours after ebb began. It was risky because no one had ever started this late in the tide cycle. Both finished in record times: Sally in 7:01 and Drury in 6:43. Sally’s record was broken before the season ended by Diddo Clark in 6:52 on October 7, 1983.
At this point in time, three swimmers had swum around Manhattan in under 7 hours: [[Paul Asmuth], Diddo Clark, and Drury Gallagher. Drury became the only person to hold the record for Manhattan twice until Shelley Taylor-Smith recaptured her second title in 1995. At the present time the number of swimmers that have broken six hours for Manhattan stands at three: Shelley Taylor-Smith, Kristian Rutford, and Marcia Cleveland. There are only four swimmers that have completed Manhattan faster than Drury.
The organization started by Gallagher has made possible the many swims how being held around New York. Besides Gallagher’s swimming prowess, his organizational skills included being able to hand off the organization to a worthy successor, Morty Berger.
Video of Acceptance Speech
Gallagher gave a typically humble acceptance speech at the United Nations during the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.