Meet the Event Directors of Swim Across America

Swim Across America is lucky to have many amazing leaders to organize and run our open water charity swims. These people are the heart and soul of our organization and we could not do this without them. Read more about each of them below.

Amy Maguire – SAA – Tampa

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Amy has been involved with Swim Across America for 2 years.  She started out as a sponsor and in 2017 was asked to be the event director for the Tampa Bay swim.  She lead her first SAA – Tampa Bay event in April 2018.  She says: “SAA’s focus solely on cancer was a great draw for me.  I was hooked when I began working with the National team and meeting the other event directors.  Everyone is committed and kind.  I have volunteered for thirty years for countless organizations and this team has expertise, focus, kindness and are willing to help in so many ways.  They are supportive.  I believe we can make a difference in cancer care and research.” Her favorite parts about SAA are seeing the swimmers come out of the water, hearing survivor stories and seeing the benefits of our donations.

Mark Barr – SAA – Houston

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Mark got involved with SAA last year and is the ED for one of our new swims this year in Houston. Mark is a cancer survivor, lifelong swimmer, Paralympian and Nurse. He says: “Getting involved with Swim Across America was an easy decision for me. I love SAA’s mission to help unite the community while raising funds for cancer research and clinical trials by hosting swimming events around the nation. Houston is home of the largest medical center in the world and also has a robust swimming community, which together has the potential to make a massive impact. SAA is unique in that it designates ahead of time which hospital and doctors will be the beneficiaries of the funds raised, and I like that swimmers and fundraisers will know exactly where their dollars are going.”

Michele Graham – SAA – Fairfield County

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Michele started working with SAA – Fairfield County (previously SAA – Greenwich-Stamford) as a volunteer in 2013 and became the ED in 2015! Michele’s SAA journey started after her daughter, Nicole, was diagnosed with ALL leukemia in 2012. Nicole’s journey was “particularly heartbreaking — cancer treatment leading to sepsis shock, 2 weeks in a medically induced coma during which she incurred strokes on both sides of her brain.” Nicole started her cancer journey a tri-varsity athlete and 30 days after being diagnosed, was in a paralyzed state. Once she had recovered and was in remission, Nicole was asked to be the honored speaker at the 2013 SAA – Greenwich-Stanford event. You can view her entire story here. After celebrating her 5-year cancer free in Oct. 2017, Nicole relapsed at the beginning of Jan 2018. She had a stem cell transplant on June 29, 1 week after she co-chaired the 2018 swim. Michele says “I knew my journey included doing something to help other cancer patients and families. No one should have to go through what Nicole and our family went through. When the call came in January of 2015 asking me to be the ED, I knew this was my destiny. I’m committed to seeing the end of cancer for everyone.”

Kitty Tetreault SAA – Boston & SAA Rhode Island

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Kitty has been involved with SAA from the very beginning, starting as a swimmer for a couple years and then transitioning over to an Event Director. She started because it was fun and had just had a baby and was looking to change things up a bit. Kitty has many great memories from SAA but says “the best part is getting to meet so many interesting people who are passionate about swimming, our cause and making a difference.”

Tony Sibio – SAA – Long Island Sound

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Tony got involved with SAA after his son, Daniel was diagnosed with stage 4 rhabdomyosarcoma. His tumor was inoperable and the cancer spread to both lungs. Daniel was treated at NY Presbyterian Hospital, which is a beneficiary of SAA – Long Island Sound and is now in remission and him and his wife Liz have 2 beautiful girls Juliana & Isabel.  In 1992, Tony’s friend Frank Weber’s wife Kathy passed away from cancer and the Glanz brothers were starting a swim for SAA in her memory. Tony got involved then and says “now the rest is history.” His family and friends have participated over the years. His cousin Michael has been on the committee since 1995 and it is a great way to fight cancer and come together as a team. He says “we lost my cousin Debbie in 2015 to lung cancer. We need to continue our fight.” His favorite part about SAA is the “many, many friends I have made over the years. I enjoy working with everyone at National and with our Long Island Sound Committee, all the swimmers, donors, volunteers, and beneficiaries. Our goal is 100% cure rate!”

Jill Roethke – SAA – Nantucket

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Jill has been involved with Swim Across America since 2012, when she was a team captain and swam the 1-mile during the special SAA – Nantucket 25th anniversary swim. She has been a competitive swimmer all her life and comes from a family of swimmers but got involved after her husband had been diagnosed with cancer. Jill became a Co-Event Director alongside Jim Pignato in 2013, after she convinced SAA to bring back the annual swim. Her favorite part about SAA is “making a tangible difference in our community, being a part of something bigger as a part of the Swim Across America family and the friendships that have evolved directly as a result of SAA both locally and nationally.” She also says, “One of my favorite memories is being on the support boat while Grant Wentworth raised over $150,000 for SAA-Nantucket while swimming from Cape Cod to Nantucket.”

Nicole Vanderpoel – SAA – Denver

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Nicole Vanderpoel was the Event Director for the inaugural SAA – Denver swim in 2018. Nicole learned of SAA through her friend Sheri Hart who was involved with SAA – Atlanta. Nicole had a passion for swimming and helping all to live a better life. She also has many friends and family who have suffered with cancer and she wanted to make a difference and help fight cancer locally in Colorado! She says “I felt there is so much passion in Colorado for swimming and fighting cancer that we could truly make this happen and make It magical.” Her favorite SAA – Denver memory thus far was her “involvement with Children’s Hospital Colorado and Patient Ambassadors” and “watching the swimmers come out of the water after they achieved their goals in swimming knowing they are helping to fight cancer.”

Scott Whelan – SAA – Seattle

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Scott (center) has been involved with Swim Across America for 10 years now. He got involved because he “enjoys every aspect of the swimming community and really wanted to find a way to defeat this ugly disease called cancer.” Scott’s favorite part of SAA events is “high-fiving and shaking hands with swimmers and watching the expression of deep accomplishment as they exit the water.”

Leslie Lucas – SAA – Dallas

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Leslie Lucas is the Co-Event Director for SAA – Dallas and has been involved with SAA since she first swam in the Dallas event in 2012! Leslie switched over to the Event Director role in 2016! She got involved with SAA originally as a way for her and her three sons to honor her father who passed away from lung cancer in 2010. Her family kept participating annually because they found the event to be “such a fulfilling way to honor other friends and family members that were cancer warriors.” She says “the more I learned about SAA, the more passionate I became about the organization’s mission. SAA fills a void as we find the most promising phase 1 research that often isn’t supported by the government or big drug companies.” Leslie’s favorite part about SAA is “watching people feel empowered and energized by doing something tangible to fight this disease that often leaves us feeling helpless is so rewarding.”

Alison Milsapps – SAA – Atlanta

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Alison is a Co-Event Director for Atlanta this year but has been a part of the swim since its inception in 2013! She first got involved as the captain of Team Accenture, who is one of the presenting sponsors for SAA Atlanta and spent the first few SAA years organizing and rallying the Accenture swimmers and volunteers. She said “I really loved getting to know SAA as an organization and the people that are involved, so I took on a larger role in my personal time as part of the SAA core committee and have been the land and water volunteer coordinator since 2017. I am beyond thrilled to expand my role even further in 2019 and cannot wait for a fantastic event!”

Susan Helmrich – SAA – San Francisco

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SAA – San Francisco Co-Event Director Susan Helmrich has been involved with the swim for 13 years and has held her role as Co-Event Director for 12 of those years. Susan had always heard about SAA and was told numerous times It was and event she should get involved with but it didn’t exist in California until 2006. That’s when Susan met Janel and was instantly hooked on SAA. Susan swam her first SAA event in 2007 and switched over to co-event director in 2008. Susan has many favorite parts about SAA but said “Mostly, I just love the people who are involved. We say It is the SAA family…and It really is!”

Annie Applegarth – SAA – Baltimore

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Annie Applegarth who will be celebrating her 10th year being apart of SAA – Baltimore this year. Annie got involved with SAA after her friend Betsy (who was the first year chair for SAA – Baltimore) discovered she was a 5 year cancer survivor and also managed large events, asked her to help with SAA. In her first year, Annie managed hospitality (tents, chairs, food, etc.). She also learned to swim and created a team of new swimmers called “Millie’s Mermaids.” Annie’s favorite part about Swim Across America is “teaching and coaching new swimmers for our events. I love watching them come into shore for their first swim. They continue to swim and raise money, but their stories are amazing and learning what brings them to the swim is heart warming and inspiring.”

Mary McCullaghSAA – Charlotte

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SAA National’s own and SAA – Charlotte Event Director Mary McCullagh started volunteering in 1989 when her then friend, turned husband Mark McCullagh, who was also her teammate on the Boston College swim team, saw a feature on PBS about Jeff Keith’s Run Across America and the first LIS swim. Mark’s family had a house on Craigville Beach – very close to Nantucket – and he thought it would make a great venue for a big swim. They connected with Jeff and Matt, rallied their BC/NY/CT swimmers and friends and organized the first swim in the Nantucket area. From there Mary served as one of the early Executive Directors, continued to help manage some of the first SAA swims and then left to raise her family. She got back involved with SAA in 2016 when our CEO Rob Butcher opened the national office in Charlotte. Mary’s favorite memory so far was “helping to build the Chicago swim and the Nantucket Sound crossings from scratch.”

Jenna StevensonSAA – Houston

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Meet Jenna Stevenson who is a Co-Event Director for SAA – Houston. Jenna got introduced to SAA in 2013 in Dallas, TX. Since then she has been involved with SAA – Dallas, SAA – Atlanta, the inaugural SAA – Denver and now is the co-event Director for SAA – Houston. Jenna said ”SAA hits close to home for me as I have had many people in my life diagnosed with cancer. I am fortunate to say that because of the top of the line care they received and the research that has been done, many of my family and friends are survivors.”

Brad JohnsonSAA – Charleston-Kiawah

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Brad got involved with SAA – Charleston-Kiawah in 2016 when he was the team captain for the open water swim clinic. He was then asked to be event director in 2017 for the first official SAA – Charleston-Kiawah Open Water Swim. His favorite part about SAA is “absolutely split between the impact each dollar has in the fight and working with the team at SAA. As a late-stage cancer survivor and clinical study patient, I do not feel I will ever reach a point where my giving back has been completed. Others gave so I could fight and win. We give so others can fight and have the opportunity to win. That is always #1. Working with the team at SAA is truly a blessing in and of itself. Dedicated, passionate, giving and just plain old good people.”

Katie MarchettiSAA – Chicago

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Katie has been involved with Swim Across America – Chicago for the past three years! She first got involved because she was “asked to join the Chicago committee by the Kennedy family – SAA Chicago’s founding members.” She says, “Cancer has taken many loved ones too soon. I’m honored to work for an organization that realizes the importance of cancer research. I look forward to many more years making waves until we find a cure!”

Kevin ShineSAA – Sound to Cove

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Kevin’s first SAA event was in 2002, he started Team SAAVE in 2003 and also helped start the SAA – Tampa Bay event. He was introduced to SAA through his good friend, Gerry Oakes and has “never looked back.” He says, “Countless family members and friends have fought and passed from cancer. Love the local support of world class beneficiaries with the global impact we have had… And the great people we deal with along the way.” Kevin’s favorite memory and part of SAA was “The struggle of my first swim in OW in 2001. I still remember the fear and struggle of that morning swim a mile off shore in LI Sound. And while it pales in comparison to what cancer patients face every day, it’s a vivid reminder of why we swim… Because today we can … And there are patients, doctors and caregivers that deserve everything we can do to eradicate this diseases.”

Nicole SchwartzSAA – Atlanta

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Nicole may have just experienced her first year as an event director but she is not new to the SAA world. She has been involved with SAA – Atlanta for four years now! She says, “We knew Megan through swimming and she came to talk to my daughter’s club team the summer of 2016. Emma signed up to become a captain of her club team (which meant I was helping!). I also signed up to volunteer at the event. I was so impressed with the event and SAA that I asked Megan to get more involved for 2017. My involvement increased in 2018 and has increased again for 2019! Never in a million year did I think I would become an ED, but I am super excited about it.” Nicole says she has many favorite memories working with Swim across America but “I think what I love the most is going to the hospital and watching the kids interact with the Olympians.”

Ryan Berube – SAA-Dallas

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Ryan’s first SAA swim was the inaugural Dallas swim, which was in 2011. This is his third year as ED, alongside his Co-event Director Leslie Lucas. Ryan said “My wife was diagnosed with a brain tumor (pituitary prolactinoma) at age 17, and had surgery to remove it three years later at University of Virginia. I was there for her surgery, and there for the life-changing “all-clear” doctor’s appointment. So cancer is part of our family story. Daniel Watters, the former co-ED and 1988 Olympian, brought me into the fold for the Dallas swim early. I was part of Team Mustang and helped promote the swim. Utilizing my Olympic background to actually do something about the fight against cancer was a perfect fit!” His favorite part about SAA is the “Why I Swim” part of every swim. You can’t keep your eyes dry. And we know that the work we are funding is helping people right here in our community, in communities across this amazing country, and in communities across the globe. “Why I Swim” connects every last one of us in the most authentic possible way. ”

Anthony DuComb – SAA – San Francisco Bay

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Anthony is a semi-retired attorney and has been an open water swimmer, Dolphin Club member and Past President, cyclist, and triathlete for many years, stemming back to 1992. He said “My family, up, until recent times, has been fortunate not to have cancer in its history. In 2006 Janel Jorgenson recruited me to become involved with the fledgling San Francisco swim as its kayak coordinator. About 7 years ago I was honored to join Susan as Co-Director SAA-SF Bay Area. Since that time we have worked together to build a single day swim event into a significant date on the open water swims in the San Francisco Bay, and have increased our gift to the two UCSF children’s cancer programs to $650,000.” Anthony’s favorite memories of SAA – SF Bay Area are “As either the kayak leader for 6 years or the Safety Director for the past 7 years, the favorite moment of each of the past 13 swims in San Francisco is when all swimmers exit the water safely.”

Jim Pignato – SAA – Nantucket

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Jim got involved with Swim Across America Nantucket because “The services we fund for Nantucket are vital component to island life. My mother is a breast cancer survivor and at the time I got involved, my father was receiving treatments for colon cancer. He ended up losing his fight in 2015. Being involved with SAA is a way to honor my mother and remember my father.” Jim’s favorite memory with Swim Across America was: “back in the summer of 1993 when Swim Across America held a clinic for the Nantucket Dolphins Swim Team prior to their Across the Sound swim. I was 12 years old, listening to Rowdy Gaines, Steve Lundquist and Summer Sanders on how to improve my strokes. This event help set the trajectory of my swim training which then transformed into my career as a Swim Coach and my role with Swim Across America as a Co-Event Director.”

Jessica Vitcenda – SAA-Denver

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Jessica got involved with SAA because she loves swimming and giving back to the community. She said “swimming is a deep seeded passion of mine and when there was a chance for me to be involved with something that raises money for cancer awareness and knowing that the money stays right here in my community, it seemed like a natural fit for me.” Jessica’s favorite part of working with SAA, while it has been brief, was “definitely seeing what an impact we made in our first year, getting to see first hand some how the money we raised is going to help fund some really great programs and meeting a ton of great people who are all interested in swimming and helping others.”

Kathy Denton – SAA – St. Louis

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Kathy’s husband Walter participated in the first two Swim Across America – Dallas events in 2011 & 2012. After Walter’s bone cancer diagnosis in 2013, Kathy decided to bring SAA to St. Louis. The inaugural SAA – St. Louis event was planned for 2015 but had to be delayed due to Walter’s diagnosis of chemo-induced Myelodysplastic Syndrome, which required a stem cell transplant. 2019 will mark the 4th annual SAA – St. Louis event and Kathy is grateful to be a part of the Swim Across America Family. One of Kathy’s favorite things about SAA is seeing people of all ages and backgrounds come together with the goal to cure cancer. “While we begin the day as strangers, after we laugh together, cry together and swim together, we leave as friends. The emotions of the event can’t be explained, they have to be experienced.” Kathy is looking forward to seeing Walter and her children participate in the 4th annual SAA – St. Louis event laster this year.

Jay Peluso – SAA -Richmond

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Jay has been involved with the Richmond swim from the beginning and was key in getting it started last year! Jay got involved because he has known our very own CEO, Rob Butcher, for years through USMS. He saw what Rob was doing through SAA and knew that he had a good venue with an established swim that might fit in with what SAA was doing. He also knew that they have one of the preeminent Cancer Treatment facilities in the country right there in Richmond. Everything seemed to align so he reached out to Rob and the rest was history. Jay says his favorite memories with SAA so far have been “before our swim this year we invited our top fundraiser to speak to the group. It was so moving and inspirational to hear his story about his mom. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. My OTHER favorite was our trip to Massey Cancer Center last month. We learned about their work with Car-T and what an amazing breakthrough that seems to be. We also learned that they are a Safety Net Facility – meaning they treat everyone, regardless of means to pay. It makes what we do at SAA all that more important. It was motivating.”

Nancy Carr – SAA – Fairfield County

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Nancy made her first donation to Swim Across America in 2007 but it wasn’t until nine years later that she became a volunteer. She said “In 2016, a third family I knew in town had just been hit with a child’s cancer diagnosis and I learned that land volunteers were needed for our local swim. Nancy’s most vivid memory with SAA is at the “2016 swim when our volunteer registration team moved down to the shore so we’d be ready to check out swimmers as the exited the water. The sight of all of these people, young and old, in colored swim caps cheering on the beach before running into the water was incredibly moving. Since then, I’ve enjoyed trying to expand awareness and fundraising beyond the swim through retail and other shopping events.”

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