2020 Swim Across America Highlights: Douglas Whitlock Bicycles from Chicago to St. Louis

This year, when Swim Across America pivoted from open water swims to virtual challenges, people have been finding all kinds of fun and creative ways to support Swim Across America and cancer research in their community. We’re highlighting some of the best ‘Making Waves to Fight Cancer’ stories with Swim Across America in 2020!

Douglas Whitlock, Swim Across America – St. Louis participant and partner at Sandberg Phoenix, one of SAA-St. Louis’s official sponsors, took his SAA -Coast to Coast Challenge to whole new level by bicycling from Grant Park in Chicago all the way to The Gateway Arch in St. Louis – a bike ride that is over 300 miles! Not only did he complete the journey, he and his team raised over $13,000 for groundbreaking cancer research and clinical trials at Siteman Cancer Center along the way! Congratulations to Doug for finishing such a challenging journey and for inspiring us all.

Dynamic Father-Daughter Duo Swims Lake Tahoe for Cancer Research

This year, when Swim Across America pivoted from open water swims to virtual challenges, people have been finding all kinds of fun and creative ways to support Swim Across America and cancer research in their community. We’re highlighting some of the best ‘Making Waves to Fight Cancer’ stories with Swim Across America in 2020!

13-year old Swim Across America – San Francisco Junior Advisory Board member and Team Susan Survives participant Maya Merhige and her father, Chris Merhige set their sights on a big goal for their participation in the San Francisco #SAACoasttoCoast Challenge in order to raise funds for UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals! For their personal challenge this year, the dynamic father-daughter duo committed to swimming the true width of Lake Tahoe. For those of you that don’t know – that’s a 12-MILE swim!

True Width of Lake Tahoe 12-Mile Swim

The pair has raised over $5,700 to support cancer research and clinical trials at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals Oakland and San Francisco! We got the chance to catch up with them afterwards and ask them all about their Lake Tahoe swim experience – you can read about it and see some photos below!

What brought you to get involved with Swim Across America? (Maya) I have been swimming with one of the director’s of SAA-SF, Susan Helmrich, for about 6 years, and she introduced me to Swim Across America. Swim Across America is actually what led me to start open-water swimming in the San Francisco Bay. In 2017 and 2018, I did the short course swim with my mom and dad, and then in 2019 we all did the long course swim without wetsuits. Over these past three years, I have reached Wavemaker status, having raised over $10K in total.  Last year, I became part of the SAA-SF Junior Advisory Board. I know a lot of people that have been affected by cancer, and I have always been interested in both swimming and medicine so I was super interested in Swim Across America from the start. 

(Chris) I met Susan Helmrich in 2014 and first did SAA in 2016.  From the first day I swam with Susan she kicked my butt in the pool.  I learned about her experience with cancer and involvement with SAA a few months after meeting her and I was blown away.  Like almost everyone, I have known people who have been affected by cancer and I was amazed by Susan’s amazing spirit and resilience, even after beating cancer three times.  She invited me to join Team Susan Survives and since then the San Francisco Bay SAA has been a highlight every year.  While the swim itself is great, I find it so powerful to hear all the incredible stories from cancer survivors and folks affected by cancer in some form.  I am glad I can do something personally to contribute to the fight against cancer.

Why did you choose the Lake Tahoe swim as your personal challenge?
(Maya) My Dad and I had been talking about us both attempting a Tahoe True Width since last year.  We have spent a lot of time in Tahoe in the winters and summers, and it holds a special place in my heart.  It has always been this magical place for me.  We began training in the San Francisco Bay in March in preparation for our August swim.  When Covid hit and the Swim Across America challenge became virtual, we knew we needed to make our Tahoe swim the SAA challenge.  

What was your experience like participating in and completing that swim? (Maya) It was really amazing!  It was the most beautiful swim, starting with a 4am start with a full moon and beautiful stars above me.  Sunrise was glorious – and swimming in the clear water under the beautiful blue sky and bold clouds was incredible.  The best part was that I was expecting it to take me over 8 hours to complete the course, but I did it in 6 hours and 21 minutes!  There were hard moments where I felt I had to dig deep, but I just kept telling myself that they were nothing compared to the struggle cancer patients face.  I love the lake so much that I was back swimming and paddle boarding in it that afternoon.  

(Chris) I went two days after Maya.  At first I thought it would advantage me to go a couple days later, and in some ways it did.  I benefited by getting a feel for the feedings, the conditions, etc.  I also got to see how supported Maya was by her online swim family during the swim and how excited she was when she completed the swim.   It didn’t advantage me so much because with the swim now behind Maya, I had two extra days to have the jitters! Watching Maya swim for that long made me wonder what I had gotten myself into!   Could I complete this thing? So, when I was toes in at 4am, I was nervous but also excited.  It was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life.  The first thing I said when I got back to the boat to Maya was, “How did you make it look so easy?”  She crushed my time, but I was still happy.  I’m really grateful for having had the opportunity to do this with Maya.

If you feel inspired to donate to Maya or Chris, you may do so through their personal pages: Maya Merhige & Chris Merhige.

Maya and Chris want to thank Maya’s little sister, Lucy for her support during their training and the swims.  “She got dragged to many many training swims and had to listen to our swim talk for six months straight.

Photos from the Lake Tahoe Swim

2020 Swim Across America Highlights: Tyler Roethke and Grant Wentworth Swim the Vineyard Sound and Raise over $100,000

In 2020, Swim Across America transitioned from open water swims to fun and exciting virtual challenges in each city. We’re highlighting some of the best ‘Making Waves to Fight Cancer’ stories with Swim Across America this year!

On August 8th, 2020, Swim Across America Nantucket participants Tyler Roethke and Grant Wentworth took their personal challenge to a whole new level by swimming a 10K crossing of the Vineyard Sound! These two accomplished this challenging swim in just under 2 hours and together have raised over $100,000 to support Nantucket Cottage Hospital and Palliative & Supportive Care of Nantucket – simply AMAZING! Way to go Grant and Tyler! Check out these awesome shots captured by photographer Tom Olcott! If you’d like to support these two outstanding SAA swimmers you can do so by going to swimacrossamerica.org/goto/GrantWentworth & swimacrossamerica.org/goto/TylerRoethke.

Board Member Jack Salerno’s Personal Challenge: 21 Triathlons To Celebrate 21 SAA Events

Swim Across America’s commitment this year is to continue providing hope to the individuals and families affected by cancer through support, inspiration, and leadership. If you are inspired by these personal challenge stories, please register or donate at swimacrossamerica.org.

Swim Across America Board Member Jack Salerno created a personal challenge to celebrate each of the 21 Swim Across America cities. Jack has been involved with Swim Across America since the inaugural Run Across America in 1984 and a board member for nearly 20 years.

Jack will be completing 21 triathlons to celebrate each of our postponed 2020 SAA open water events this year.  His goal is to raise $21K ($1K for each).  You can support Jack at his personal fundraising page.

PHOTOS OF JACK’S 21 TRIATHLONS (check back for updates)

A Story of Purpose, Grit, and Humanity

I have a story. It’s a story of purpose, grit, and humanity. It’s the kind of story that becomes a movie.

In 1984, a team of childhood friends lead by cancer survivor Jeff Keith ran across the United States. The run took nine months. The team faced challenge after challenge. It tested their human spirit. Incredibly (in a time of no internet or e-mail) they raised $1M for cancer research.

Matt Vossler was part of the run. In 1987, Matt was inspired to do more for the cancer community. So he created a charity swim across Long Island Sound. The beginning of a movement was born. A movement that would pioneer new and lifesaving options for cancer patients. Swim Across America’s movement has grown to charity swims in more than 20 communities. But Swim Across America’s ability to make an impact for cancer research and support programs is because of your generosity.

Donations from you have directly lead to breakthroughs to fighting cancer. Cancer is now being treated with immunotherapy, personalized medicine and gene therapy. Treatments that we’ve been funding with your donations. Treatments in 1987 that weren’t available. Doctors are now telling families, “there is hope.” And you are part of the story.

Your donations have given families the most precious gift. The gift of time. The gift of more time to celebrate birthdays, to attend weddings, and pass on family values.

Any other year, we’d be planning to see you at a charity swim. Circumstances required we come up with a new program for 2020. We hope you will join our Swim Across America Challenge. Publish your SAA Challenge on social and tag @SAASwim. We’re watching with anticipation and want to share your story.

We hope you will invite others to participate. Anyone can do any activity for their Swim Across America Challenge. See our communities and join the one that best fits your interest.

Our Swim Across America founders believe humanity shines when we help others. And helping others is what you do by supporting Swim Across America.

We humbly say thank you.

Rob Butcher
Swim Across America | CEO

Swim Across America Awards $120,000 in Cancer Grants

Swim Across America has partnered with the American Society of Clinical Oncology and American Association for Cancer Research to award two $60,000 grants to young investigators that represent the next generation of cancer oncologists. ASCO and AACR are the two leading professional organizations that serve the oncology community.

Dr. Chemtai Mungo

Dr. Chemtai Mungo of UC San Francisco is the recipient of the Conquer Cancer-Swim Across America Young Investigator Award. Dr. Mungo has received a $60,000 grant that will allow her to provide cervical cancer prevention among HIV-positive women. Dr. Mungo describes her personal story, growing up in rural Kenya, as one of inequality that has been a challenge and an inspiration.

Dr. Manisha Jalan

Dr. Manisha Jalan of Memorial Sloan Kettering is the recipient of the AACR-Swim Across America Cancer Research Fellowship. Dr. Jalan has received a $60,000 grant to develop a high throughput assay to test if DNA breaks can be repaired using alternative template other than DNA, to ensure genome stability. Genome instability, especially in breast and ovarian cancer, has long been considered the primary driver of most cancer types.

Dr. Mungo and Dr. Jalan will be honored October 15th at the Value Based Cancer Summit. The Summit is a think tank of academic, industry and business leaders committed to improving cancer care while improving access for patients. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, past FDA-Commissioner, is the keynote speaker. Swim Across America is the official charity supported by the Association for Value-Based Cancer Care.

Swim Across America Offers Swim Lessons to Cancer Survivors

Olympian Cammile Adams is an ambassador for our Swim Across America–Houston charity swim. She is also a swim school owner operating five SafeSplash and SwimLabs schools in greater Houston.

Cammile Adams & Adam Schoen

With quarantine and social distancing to prevent COVID-19, the opportunity for cancer survivors to swim and support Swim Across America has been greatly reduced. Cancer survivors need to be especially aware of their surroundings so being able to swim, or learn to swim, in a safe and clean environment is necessary.

Swim Across America and Cam have teamed up to offer lessons to cancer survivors in the Houston area. The first survivor to receive a lesson is Adam Schoen. Adam, married to wife Claire and father to son Theo (3-years old) and daughter Halle (2-months old), is a brain cancer survivor. He was treated at MD Anderson, beneficiary for Swim Across America-Houston. Adam shares his story on his personal page.

Cam at the 2019 Swim Across America-Houston

“I love teaching,” said Cam. “This is a wonderful opportunity for me to help Adam and other cancer survivors.”

SAA – San Francisco’s Susan Helmrich Interviews “Why We Swim” Author Bonnie Tsui in Virtual Conversation

 

Swim Across America – San Francisco Event Director and cancer survivor Susan Helmrich will be interviewing “Why We Swim” author Bonnie Tsui in a Zoom Conversation this Wednesday, June 3rd. Topics will include all things swimming, community and the reasons “why we swim.” Susan Helmrich has been the Event Director for SAA – San Francisco for 13 years and her “Team Susan Survives” is consistently a top national fundraising team for Swim Across America.

Susan has been a member of U.S. Masters Swimmers for decades and a daily swimmer for most of her life — except during her three bouts with cancer. An epidemiologist, she has studied how over-the-counter and prescription medications affect women’s health and the effects of physical activity on health and well-being” says Berkeley City Club, the host of the virtual conversation.

Both women are avid swimmers and excited to talk about what draws them to the water and what they love about swimming. The Zoom Conversation will take place on Wednesday, June 3rd at 7:00 p.m. PST (10:00 p.m. EST). Swimmers and non-swimmers alike are invited to participate. RSVP here: sydneyc@swimacrossamerica.org.

 

 

Making Waves with Hope: “Uncertainty and Adversity” with Craig Beardsley and Rowdy Gaines

Hope Header2Making Waves with Hope is a series of inspiring messages by leaders in the Swim Across America community. Olympians Rowdy Gaines and Craig Beardsley had earned their spots on the 1980 USA Olympic Team when uncertainty struck. The US boycotted the 1980 Olympics and in an instant, the dreams of both—and hundreds of others—were washed away. Fast forward three decades to the postponement of the 2020 Olympics. Rowdy and Craig offer their wisdom to dealing with uncertain moments. Rowdy and Craig were guests on “Pitch The Rhino” podcast. Give it a listen here: bit.ly/PTRPodcastCR.

beardsleyRowdy

Craig Beardsley on Recovering From What You Can’t Control:

“One of the things that I learned from what happened in 1980, and this is a life lesson for me, was that I did everything I was supposed to do getting ready for ‘80, and then things changed. And I learned that sometimes you can do everything you’re supposed to do but sometimes things are just out of your control. That happens in life. And when that happens you have to just learn how to recover from that and move forward.”

Rowdy Gaines on Current Athletes Finding Motivation Despite Postponements:  

“The most important thing is our health and wellbeing. So, these decisions that came down were the right decisions, it doesn’t make it any easier. It’s just like in 1980, at the time I felt like, ‘Okay I’m going to support my country’ and it felt like the boycott was the best way to answer the Russians that had invaded Afghanistan, but I didn’t like it. It still was devastating. It still hurt me. And I think that it’s okay to be vulnerable right now. I think it’s okay for these athletes to feel anger, the emotions of going through denial first, and then anger, and then sadness and depression, and then acceptance. And sooner or later you’re going to have that acceptance and be able to move on. And it will make you stronger, it will, I guarantee you at the very best it will make them stronger, because in the end, after acceptance for me, was motivation.”

Craig Beardsley on Being Your Best and Obstacles:

When they announced the boycott, I wasn’t the world record holder at the time, I still had something to prove to myself more than anybody else that I could be the best. So I didn’t allow that to derail me as much as maybe some of the other people. I just felt compelled that I still had to prove something, to everybody and myself that I could be the best, and that I trained for that, and I wasn’t going to let anything get in my way of being the best at this point.”

Craig Beardsley’s Advice on Training and Focus:

“Something that I learned directly from experience is if you’re training and all you’re doing is training, try to have something else in your life that you can focus on. And not just fun stuff, but something that you actually have to focus on that you can remove yourself from the sport because it will help you and it will give you room to breathe, and you’ll look at the sport with fresh eyes instead of getting burned out by it.”

beardsleyRowdy2

BIOS

Craig Beardsley was heavily favored to win the 200m butterfly as a member of the 1980 Olympic Team, only to be forced from competition when politics intervened, and the US boycotted Moscow’s Summer Games. Between 1980 and 1983, Craig held both the World and the American Records in the 200m butterfly, and he won Gold at the Pan American Games in both 1979 and 1983. A nine-time US National Champion, Craig captured another Gold in the same event at the NCAA Championships while an All-American at the University of Florida. Beardsley is currently the Swim Across America Director of Partnerships. 

“Rowdy” Gaines  held 11 World Records during a four-year span in the 1980s. At the age of 25, Gaines won three Gold Medals in the 1984 Games in L.A., including the 100m free in which he set a new Olympic Record, .45 seconds shy of his own World Record. Rowdy also swam on the Gold-Medal winning 400m free and 400m medley relays, both which set World Records. In 1984, he was named World Swimmer of the Year. During his education at Auburn, Rowdy was a five-time NCAA All-American and honored as the Southeastern Conference Athlete of the Year. In 1996, Gaines became NBC’s Olympic Games Swimming Commentator, filling that role in all Olympics and major competitions since. Gaines has also been an Olympic Ambassador from Swim Across America since our organization’s inaugural swim in 1987.

Swim Across America Thanks Healthcare Workers at Local Beneficiaries

Swim Across America is finding ways to continuing supporting local beneficiaries during this challenging time. Local leadership has been donating meals to selfless healthcare workers at our beneficiary institutions as they continue putting themselves at risk to serve and protect all of us during this crisis. Our unwavering commitment to support our beneficiaries remains, and now more than ever we stand by each of them.

SAA – Houston

MD Anderson Cancer Center

93577600_1415749531941024_1891633266516033536_n

Swim Across America – Houston treated the Pediatric and Brain & Spine Teams at MD Anderson Cancer Center to lunch as a way to express their sincerest appreciation for their service.

SAA – Dallas

Innovative Clinical Trials Center – Baylor Scott & White Health

92758907_2582859791955652_2566917183326126080_n

A big thumbs up from Dr. Becerra after the Swim Across America – Dallas team brought “Taco Tuesday” to the staff of the Swim Across America Innovative Clinical Trials Center at Baylor Scott & White Health.

SAA – San Francisco Bay

UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals

98089073_10157550372318737_178459000705122304_n

SAA – San Francisco Bay provided their beneficiary and partners UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals with a nutritious breakfast last week to thank them for their continued efforts in supporting the Survivors of Childhood Cancer Program. Thanks to our friends Checkers Catering & Special Events for providing the scrumptious breakfast to these Capeless Heroes!!

SAA – Atlanta

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

Swim Across America – Atlanta had Chick-Fil-A cookies dropped off for the past and present medical staff who have been funded by Swim Across America to show our appreciation for all of their hard work. They returned the love with some fun photos with their cookies.

SAA – Long Island Sound

NY Presbyterian Hospital &

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Swim Across America – Long Island Sound has been busy reaching out to their beneficiaries and scheduling these meal drop-offs. The SAA – LIS team brought breakfast to the nurses at the front line in the Urgent Care Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering. They also provided lunch to the ICU team at NY Presbyterian Hospital.

A huge thank you to all healthcare workers for your courage and unselfish commitment to patients and the communities you serve!