Advice from Dr. Tara Kirk Sell, SAA Olympian Ambassador and Pandemic Policy Expert

In 2004, Dr. Tara Kirk Sell broke the world record in the 100 breaststroke (Short Course Meters) and earned a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. When she’s not supporting Swim Across America-Baltimore as an Olympian Ambassador, Dr. Sell conducts, manages, and leads research projects to develop a greater understanding of potentially large-scale health events at Johns Hopkins.

Dr. Sell was an expert witness at a congressional committee hearing on COVID-19 in early March and Swim Across America was lucky enough to get her thoughts on our current position.

“I’ve been working on pandemic preparedness issues for the past decade and my Center, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security has been on COVID-19 since the beginning,” said Dr. Sell. “My work has always focused on trying to improve our country’s preparedness for serious pandemics like COVID-19. I work on a range of different topics including public health communication, misinformation, crowd sourced disease forecasting, community resilience, and public health policy formation.”

When asked for her expert advice to the Swim Across America community, Dr. Sell provided this powerful message:

“I think the most important thing that people can do in their response to COVID-19 is right-size their understanding of the seriousness of the disease. On the one hand, it’s a serious problem. On the other, there’s no need to panic. We need to take thoughtful precautions like limiting unnecessary contact with others, having good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, and staying home when sick to manage the outbreak now and for the foreseeable future.”

“The SAA community is no stranger to the idea that we all need to join together and make shared sacrifices to protect the vulnerable. This pandemic is not different.”

Here’s video from Johns Hopkins featuring Dr. Sell in early March. For the most updated guidance on COVID-19, visit:

Dr. Tara Kirk Sell is a Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

A Message from a Non-Profit Leader. Thank you.

SAA Why I Swim FlagsFor three decades, Swim Across America has been hosting charity swims. The proceeds from our charity swims are then granted to fund cancer research. Since our first charity swim in 1987, we’ve granted around $100 million dollars to our hospital partners who have been at the forefront of developing new cures and treatments to fight cancer.

Our commitment is to continue providing hope to the individuals and families affected by cancer through support, inspiration, and leadership.

GogglesThe values of Swim Across America are rooted in family. We are grateful for the wisdom of our board members, whose steady leadership has guided Swim Across America through times of hardship; for example, weathering the storms of 2001 and 2008.

Lessons from other times of crisis have helped to prepare Swim Across America for uncertainty. Like many businesses, we’ve tightened our belts. Thanks to guardrails having been put in place years ago to safeguard our cause, we are facing these times with the strength of community and family.

  • Our team is taking on more local responsibility for our charity swims as our volunteers are experiencing their own challenges.
  • Our team is sharing stories about our grant partners to bring you hope and inspiration. Our grants continue to fund more than 60 oncology projects and the thousands of nurses, researchers, and patients within the programs.
  • Our team is creating new opportunities so the spirit and purpose of teams like Team Amazing Grace can continue to make an impact. A tour in honor of Grace Bunke was planned across 14-of our charity swims this year is being adjusted.

THANK YOU to our supporters, partners, and volunteers. You’ve shown your trust in us. We don’t take it for granted. We want you to know how much we appreciate you.

We are here for you now and as we continue to move forward, together.

Rob Butcher
Swim Across America | CEO

Swim Across America Commitment to Our Beneficiaries

March 23, 2020

To Our Beneficiary Partners,

This is an uncertain and stressful time for the medical community. We—your Swim Across America family—want you to know how much we appreciate the sacrifices you are making. We are always on your side and continue to proudly support you.

It’s too early to know what impact COVID-19 and the economic downturn will have on giving. What is certain, the donations received from the Swim Across America charity swim for which you are a beneficiary will be granted this December to continue supporting research and clinical trials.

Mia Levy-Chicago-2019In December of 2019, Swim Across America granted a record $6M that funded more than 60 investigator projects. It is a policy of Swim Across America that funds granted be used within the calendar year. We are writing to modify this policy given current circumstances and Swim Across America’s desire to support and preserve the human capital, and the research performed.

Given that investigators, post-docs, graduate students, and research personnel may be reassigned or otherwise unable to perform work on specific funded projects:

  • Swim Across America permits continue expenditure of funds that had been designated to salary/fringe to be used, even if those personnel are not able to carry out the Swim Across America funded research, and there is no alternative source of funds.
  • Swim Across America grants no-cost extensions for unused funds to a date yet determined, not to exceed 6 months from the end of the current funding period, unless further extended in future communications.
  • Swim Across America will delay the requirement of progress reports until the no-cost extension period concludes.

IMG_5973We acknowledge that you and your research staff (your intellectual base) may be on quarantine or not able to perform their work. We acknowledge some patients necessary to your research or clinical trials, may be on quarantine and not able to participate. Swim Across America supports all at your institution during these challenging times.

When the Swim Across America board of directors, working with experts, advisors, and our wide community of cancer researchers and clinicians feels some degree of normalcy has returned to the research community, we will reach out to assess the impact and make whatever adjustments in specific aims, timelines and budgets can be made to assist that valuable research goes forward.

48330487337_56768e8af4_oOur messaging for the foreseeable future will be themed around grants to our beneficiaries. You are giving hope to so many, and we want to showcase your impact as a gentle way to encourage supporters. Please share with Swim Across America those stories of how the important mission of conquering cancer will move forward in the face of these events.

Thank you for Making Waves to Fight Cancer with us.

Rob Butcher                                     Dr. Evan Vosburgh
Swim Across America | CEO        Swim Across America | Beneficiary Chair

SAA Partner Orca Announces 2020 Fundraising Prize for All Open Water Swims


SAA Partner Orca is supporting Swim Across America in 2020 by rewarding a brand new Orca TRN wetsuit to a lucky top early WaveMaker at each of our open water charity swims! All participants for each open water swim that hit WaveMaker fundraising status one month before the swim will be entered into a raffle to select a winner! Step up the early fundraising and be one of the elite fundraisers to represent SAA with a new Orca wetsuit at your swim!

You can further support Orca and Swim Across America by using the code SAAPARTICIPANT15 at to save 15% on wetsuits, gear and more!

The Orca TRN wetsuit is the ideal choice for those athletes who are taking their first steps in the open water or triathlon world. This wetsuit provides a mixture of buoyancy and flexibility, keeping you comfortable and safe in your first competitions.

Swim Across America Awards a Record $6 Million in Grants to Fight Cancer for 2020

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In 1987, an inaugural charity swim was hosted across Long Island Sound that raised $5,000 for cancer research. Since then, Swim Across America charity swims have granted nearly $100M that has funded innovative cancer research and clinical trials. Swim Across America grants have played a major role in the development of immunotherapy, detection, gene therapy and personalized medicine. The impact is that families who hear “you have cancer” are more than ever hearing “there is hope.”

In 2020, Swim Across America will be awarding a record $6 million in cancer research grants that will fund more than 50 projects and programs at the following beneficiaries: Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy (Connecticut), Baylor Scott & White Sammons Cancer Center (Dallas), Cancer Support Team (Westchester, NY), RUSH University Medical Center (Chicago), Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (New York), Columbia University Medical Center (New York), Dana- Farber Cancer Institute (Boston), Feinstein Institute for Medical Research (New York), Medical University of South Carolina Hollings Cancer Center (Charleston), Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center (Baltimore), Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital (Tampa), Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute (Charlotte), MassGeneral Hospital for Children (Boston), MD Anderson Cancer Center (Houston), Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (New York), Moffitt Cancer Center (Tampa), Nantucket Cottage Hospital, Palliative and Support Care of Nantucket, Siteman Cancer Center (St. Louis), Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, UC Benioff Children’s Hospitals (San Francisco and Oakland), Children’s Hospital Colorado (Denver), University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center (Detroit), VCU Massey Cancer Center (Richmond) and Women and Infants Hospital (Rhode Island).

In addition to these grants that are being funded by Swim Across America charity swims within their community, Swim Across America is awarding $110,000 in grants to the Conquer Cancer Foundation (American Society of Clinical Oncology—ASCO) and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) that will fund young investigators who have promising ideas to fight cancer.

For more information, please visit

Fall is Here, Now What?

The clocks changed this weekend and the leaves are turning. Swim Across America hosted 20 open water charity swims and more than 70 charity pool swims in 2019. Our supporters raised over $8 million ‘Making Waves to Fight Cancer’ with us.48837231922_f87177c9fb_c

So, now what?

We view our role as stewards of donated funds meaning we do not invest what participants have solicited through our charity swims in the stock market. Our bank account is at its highest mark in November. And in December, we will be at our lowest point because the participant-donated funds will be wired to our beneficiaries for approved grant purposes.

While our travel slows down in the fall, the activities in other ways pick up. For example, here is a sampling of responsibilities in the fall and winter that require our focus:

  • The reality is we do have costs such as permits, insurance, shipping, hospitality, merchandise and travel that need to be paid up.
  • Once the expenses are settled, we have tie-out calls with each of our local charity swim committees. We determine a modest reserve to sustain each charity swim and then the balance becomes the grant.

In other words, we drain the bank account!


Olympian and SAA Ambassador Kristy Kowal
  • We gather reports from each of our funded investigators. Our beneficiary and science committee then reviews the reports to ensure the grant was put to the intended focus. We look for successes and stories of breakthroughs that we can share.
  • Some funded investigators such as those at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and Rush University Medical Center (Chicago) are coming to their grant cycle completion so we are selecting promising new investigators within the hospitals we can help launch.
  • We have new beneficiaries such as MD Anderson (Houston), Rogel Cancer Center (University of Michigan) (Detroit) and Hollings Cancer Center (Medical University of South Carolina) (Charleston-Kiawah) that we are selecting and awarding projects to fund.
  • Fall is the heaviest for matching gifts as we request and process on behalf of supporters.
  • We file the necessary legal paperwork to be recognized as a charity in each state.
  • The puzzle of the next year’s season is created.

And then the first week in January, we publish the Swim Across America website with our 2020 charity swims.


We truly appreciate the trust you place in us

– Swim Across America