As it became obvious that the college swim practice schedule was interfering too much with the college class schedule, Fairfield’s James Coppola hung up the goggles for good.

Or so he thought.

After a solid career at Fairfield Prep, Coppola kept right on swimming as a freshman at Fordham University — until he discovered there simply wasn’t enough time to go to class, study and swim. Something had to go.

Bye, bye, swimming.

After graduating from Fordham in 2005, Coppola, 32, has been working at a financial services company, EWM Global in Stamford. About four years ago, one of his co-workers, P.J. Papale, who also swam collegiately at Tulane, found out about Coppola’s background and threw down the challenge goggles, so to speak.

Let’s do Swim Across America, Papale said.

So, Coppola got back into the pool, got back into swimming shape and in 2011, started what’s now been annual event these last four years, swimming to raise money for cancer research by competing in the Greenwich-Stamford Open Water Swim as part of Swim Across America.

“I’m really trying to make this an annual happening for me,” Coppola said by phone the other day. “P.J. talked me into it and I decided to do it and it’s been a rewarding experience each and every year. It’s such a worthy cause and I’m happy to help and try to push it forward.”

There are three different distances in the event — a three-mile wave, a mile-and-a-half wave and a half-mile wave. Proceeds from this year’s June 27 Swim benefited the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy.

“We’ve been doing the mile and a half wave for the last three years,” Coppola said. “We’re in open water, they launch us from the beach and we swim out and make a huge rectangle around these buoys.”

After a first-year swim where Coppola raised over $500 for the Swim, these past three years, that total has been over $1,000. He swims in memory of his uncle, Ed Lozada, who passed away from colon cancer in 1999, his grandmother, Shirley Coppola and his mother’s parents, Alice and Henry Bittner, and swims in honor of Kate Thorpe and Margaret Dana-Conway.

“It’s just a nice way to pay tribute,” Coppola said. “They were all touched by cancer in some way and it’s a way to keep them in my memory.”

Coppola, who started competitive swimming at age seven, swam for Prep between 1998 and 2001, specializing in the breaststroke. In 2001, Coppola helped the Jesuits finish fourth in the 200-meter medley relay (1:44.67) while finishing 11th individually in the 100-meter breaststroke (1:07.36). In that 200 meter medley relay race, Coppola set a personal best in his leg with a time of :29.00.

The Swim event is not timed, although there is a clock positioned at the beach where the swimmers start, if someone is so inclined to see if they want to try and set some kind of personal best.

“They always reaffirm that it’s not a ‘race,’ ” Coppola said. “They encourage everyone to take a breather halfway through and kind of look around just to reflect on why we’re all doing the Swim.”

And that’s to try and find a cure for cancer.

“(Cancer) touches everyone and to see the stats (1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime), it’s scary,” Coppola. “This is just one of those things where I feel everyone should play a part in helping. Once I heard about this event, it’s hard to turn a blind eye to it. I’d love to do this year after year, try to make a difference.”

celsberry@ctpost.com @elsctpost/Twitter