#WHYISWIM for SAA in 2019

Swim Across America is highlighting our amazing participants and top fundraisers in 2019 and their inspiration for why they swim with SAA. If you are interested in sharing your #WhyISwim story with us, contact Allie.

Steven Weinstein – SAA – Chicago

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We are highlighting Steven Weinstein today with his #WhyISwim story. Steven participated for his eighth year in the SAA – Chicago swim. Here’s why Steven got involved with SAA: “I forget how I first came to know about SAA.  I swim with the Chicago Smelts Masters Swim Team, so likely I learned about it through USMS.  I started swimming with SAA after my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.  My mother,  my mother in law and recently a dear friend died from cancer.  Fortunately my father, father in law and two sisters in law are cancer survivors.  Participating in SAA has become a deeply meaningful way for me to remember family and contribute to cancer research, while doing something I love.”

Mark Heingertner – SAA – Sound to Cove

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Here is SAA – Sound to Cove participant Mark Heingartner’s #WhyISwim story! This will be Mark’s fifth year participating in the swim and here is why: “I got involved in SAA in the summer of 2015. Stephen and Eileen D’antonio knew I was a swimmer and asked me if the fundraiser was something I would be interested in helping out with. They signed me up with Team Stacey, sponsored me and I was on my way to the Sound to Cove open water swim. Fast forward five years later and the first Saturday in August is a day I always look forward to. It has been and continues to be my honor to swim and raise money for this great organization run by amazing people. Through the years my friends and family have been incredibly generous and kind in helping me raise money and make waves for SAA and Team Stacey. I swim for those that bravely fought and those that continue to do so today.”

Mike Kelly – SAA – Long Island Sound

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Mike has been participating in the SAA – Long Island Sound swim since 2014. Here is how he got involved: “I have been a lifelong swimmer but was introduced to open water swimming by SAA in 2014 when a friend created Team Mackey in honor of a mutual friend who recently went into remission.  I swam the 2K in Larchmont that year and have since graduated to 5K for a few years before doing the 10K last year.  Although I am returning to 5K this year, Team Mackey – Aaron Kwittken is picking up the gauntlet of the 10K swim.  I have since assumed the captaincy of Team Mackey and continue to train hard, motivated by the challenges that cancer battlers face (as well as the strain borne by the families of those who lost the battle) pales in comparison to my dislike of the taste of salt water and poor eyesight that often has me swim much further than the stated distance. I celebrate my good health and actively pursue financial support so the list of people for whom I swim does not grow.”

Matt Jennings – SAA – Catalina

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Meet SAA Catalina Cancer Crusher Matt Jennings. Matt is from Seattle via Boston. He started swimming when he was six. Which took him all the way to captaining his team at the University of New Hampshire his senior year. After that, he took a break from swimming until discovering Swim Across America. “I’ve been swimming with SAA for 20 years. In that time, I have participated in Seattle, Boston, and San Francisco. Currently, I serve as a co-director of SAA – Seattle. While each SAA event is special and memorable in its own way, this is an awesome opportunity to do something unique. I swim for all the names on my cap but especially my dad and other family and close friends affected by cancer.” Open water swimming offers Matt variety and freedom in swimming outside the pool while also giving him a new set of physical and mental challenges.

Julie Brabbs – SAA – Motor City Mile

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Julie Brabbs was the team captain for Team Rogel and volunteered at the inaugural SAA – Motor City Mile swim this year! Here’s why Julie got involved with SAA: “I am passionate about providing treatment options and support for all cancer patients, and ultimately reducing the cancer burden. Swim Across America plays a key in providing funds to organizations like the Rogel Cancer Center to advance research that will help develop better ways to identify, treat, and prevent cancer. In addition to my position as the administrator for a large cancer center, I am a 3-year cancer survivor and can personally relate to fear cancer brings and the challenges to one’s health from the treatment itself. I am so thankful for organizations like Swim Across America that can help rally people together to raise funds to support the amazing research at our center and others.”

Kevin Kenny – SAA – Baltimore & Rhode Island

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Kevin Kenny participated in SAA – Baltimore and was supposed to participate in SAA – Rhode Island this year. Here’s why Kevin is swimming with SAA: “Since hearing about SAA twenty years ago, I have wanted to get involved. I loved the idea of swimming and raising money for cancer research. Over the years, several former teammates from Boston College had participated and they encouraged me to get involved. However, it was only recently that I found a mentor and local group at MeadowBrook swim club in Baltimore to get me connected. My mentor and friend John Dierkes from Baltimore lost his wife to cancer in 2014 and John invited me to join his team. I am honored to be included on John’s team and raise money in memory of his wife Ellen. Like John, I have also lost a loved one to cancer. In 2005, my sister Eileen was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. After a year long fight, Eileen lost her battle to cancer at age 44, leaving behind 6 children. The photo you see is Eileen and me in Cape Cod. Every morning as I train for the upcoming SAA open water swims or reach out to potential donors, I think about my sister Eileen and John’s wife Ellen. I am delighted to be part of the local Baltimore SAA fundraising team headed by Annie Applegarth and I look forward to helping our team raise funds to help find a cure for cancer.”

Scott Cramer – SAA – Denver

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Scott Cramer who is a top fundraiser in SAA – Denver! Here’s why Scott swims with SAA:  “I swim because it is the only exercise I have found that gives me complete body awareness.  The feel of the water allows me to connect and integrate all of my coordination while increasing my cardiovascular stamina.  It makes me feel good. I particularly like open water swimming and this is how I got connected with SAA.  I was at a weekly open water swimming session at a local reservoir and the organizers from SAA were there promoting the event.  I am a cancer researcher working on prostate cancer and have been raising money for several years to support cancer research in Colorado.  SAA was a natural marriage of my love of open water swimming and my goals to raise money for cancer research!”

Team Merck – SAA – Fairfield County

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Team Merck from SAA – Fairfield County that is taking place this Saturday, as told by team captain Mike Kresge. Here’s his story: “I’m swimming this year for family, friends and co-workers that are survivors, still fighting or unfortunately have lost their battle to some type of cancer. Currently, I keep a hand full of individuals in my prayers as they continue their fight against this dreadful disease. I will be the only swimmer for Team Merck at the Fairfield County event. The rest of the team is made up of Merck employee volunteers from CT, NJ, & NY that will set up the event site on Friday and will help out is some capacity the morning of the event.”

Ashley Goldman – SAA – Fairfield County

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Ashley Goldman participated in the 13th annual SAA – Fairfield County swim this year and here’s why: “I swim to not only raise money for cancer research but to show my support for all cancer fighters and survivors.  This October will be my ninth anniversary since being diagnosed with a rare ovarian cancer at age 23.  I swim to show my gratitude for research and science, my loving husband, family and friends, and most importantly, our 18 month old son, George, who is a true miracle and the light and center of our world! Swim Across America gives hope to the millions of people around the world affected by cancer and I am honored to not only work for Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy (ACGT) but to raise money and make big waves to fight cancer!”

Kat Simonovic – SAA – Chicago

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Meet 2016 Olympian Kat Simonovic. Kat was a swimmer at Arizona State University and recently moved from Phoenix to Chicago where she found out about Swim Across America – Chicago. Here is why Kat swims: “I swim because the mind body connection always takes me back to simplicity in a world that’s often so complicated. Swimming empowers me to be independent and test all aspects of my character, stretching from physical to mental strengths. This sport will always be part of who I am. I found SAA recently since I just moved to Chicago. I was looking for a swim in the lake, but wanted to find one that stood for a good cause and national connection. This event was perfect and has already proved to be such a unifying experience.”

Mel Smith – SAA – Seattle

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Meet Mel Smith who has been participating in SAA – Seattle for 10 years. Here is why Mel got involved: “I moved to the Northwest in 2005 with my wife to be closer to our offspring.  I have been swimming competitively since 1958 so getting involved in “Open Water” events has been one of my passions.  In Illinois I had competed in the 5K Big Shoulders event several times including 2005. I first became aware of SAA when my daughter participated in SAA Chicago.  When I heard about SAA Seattle and their support of the Cancer Care Alliance it was a natural.  My father and several friends succumbed to cancer at early ages.  A nephew is a current survivor as are several of my fellow Masters swimmers. This year will be my 10th year in the Seattle event.  Missed one due to a concussion and my medical doctors did not want me in the middle of Lake Washington just in case there was a problem.  I have been a Wave Maker every year and look forward to my 10th race this fall.”

Karlene Denby – SAA – Houston

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Spotlight is on Karlene Denby from SAA – Houston. Karlene jumped into things with SAA – Houston from the very beginning at the planning meeting in January 2018, when she decided to be a part of the leadership team there. Here is why she got involved: As a life-long swimmer, I am excited that an open-water event is in my home town with all proceeds staying right here in the Houston area. I’ve been impressed by the transparency and accountability built into the SAA fundraising model, with careful vetting of research projects, ensuring that funds are used only for research, and annual follow-up on the progress of the research. I am collecting donations in memory of two very dear people that I lost to cancer. First and foremost is my mom, Julia Trebesiner. My mom passed away in August 2011 from Myelodysplactic Syndrome (MDS). She only survived four months after her diagnosis and lived with us from initial diagnosis to her death. Those four months were both the most difficult and most rewarding times of my life. At the time of her death, MDS was not even classified as a cancer. But research has shown that it is one of many cancers of the blood. Second is my friend, Meg Kneeshaw. Meg passed away on Thanksgiving Day 2017 after a two-year battle with ovarian cancer. Meg was a teacher, a super athlete, loving wife and mother, and dear friend. Meg passed away six months before her planned retirement and never got to see her daughter, Molly, graduate from high school. While she was taken from us far too soon, Meg received excellent care at MD Anderson Cancer Center, the beneficiary of the Houston swim.”

Julia Kotora – SAA – Atlanta

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Julia is 15 years old and will be participating in her third SAA – Atlanta swim. Here is why she got involved: “I swim because I love feeling free and calm when I’m in the water, and it always helps me with the rest of my day. My first time in the water was when I was half a year old, and then it progressed to swim lessons, summer league, school swim, club swim, and now coaching for my summer league. I heard about SAA from Madeleine Singletary when I was still swimming with Swim Atlanta, and I knew immediately that it was something I wanted to do. I swim for SAA because I want to be a part of this amazing cause that is making a huge difference in our community and in the U.S. I knew many people who had cancer and ended up dying because of it so, I swim in honor of them. This September will be my 3rd year doing SAA-Atlanta: I’m so excited and I hope to raise even more money than last year!”

Carli Taymans – SAA – Tampa Bay

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Carli Taymans from Swim Across America – Tampa Bay. Carli was featured on WSTP in Tampa this week for her inspiring story and meaning behind her participation this year. Carli participated in last year’s SAA – Tampa Bay swim when her mom, who was there to cheer her on, visited the Moffitt Mole Patrol during the event and found out she had Melanoma on her back. The Melanoma was removed and her mom’s health is fine now but it gave a whole new meaning to Carli’s participation in this year’s open water swim. Carli says “I’ve definitely put a lot more work into it this year because of what happened to my mom.”

John O’Neill – SAA – Rhode Island

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Meet John O’Neill from SAA – Rhode Island. John has been apart of the Rhode Island swim since the very beginning and here’s why he got involved: “Janel, former CEO of Swim Across America, haired and asked me for advice about how we might go about setting up a swim in Rhode Island. I joined the local Board of RI swim and began to recruit local college and university teams in support of the effort and it has grown into something every team looks forward to as a team-building event at the beginning of each school year. We are very fortunate to have so many teams and schools who understand the significant role they now play in the fight vs cancer. Our swimmers, Alumni, families and friends here at Providence College look forward to our next swim in September.”

Sulaiman Azam – SAA – Tampa Bay

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This 9 year old rockstar is Sulaiman Azam who has raised over $1,000 for SAA – Tampa Bay this year. Here is why he swims: “I had 3 close family members pass away before I was born due to different forms of cancer, my great grandma, my great Papou (Greek for grandpa) and my great uncle Jim so I never got to meet them. My aunt Stephanie also lost her father to cancer right before her wedding so my little cousins didn’t get to meet him. I swim in their memory and honor, and to help fund research and treatments for those who are currently battling cancer. I swim to help prevent It in the future so people don’t have to lose their family members prematurely.”

Beverly Andrews – SAA – Charlotte


Meet Beverly Andrews who participates in SAA – Charlotte. Here is why Beverly got involved with Swim Across America: “I was born a water baby. My mom enrolled me in infant swim classes, next were swim lessons and neighborhood summer league and later in elementary school I joined the Mecklenburg Aquatic Center to swim year-round. I swam in high school and walked onto Clemson University swim team. I have always loved swimming.” Beverly got her daughters involved in neighborhood swim team which is where she met our very own CEO Rob Butcher. She says, “In 2014, my father-in-law, Chris Andrews, was diagnosed with AML M5 Leukemia. He was treated at Levine Cancer Institute by Dr. Michael Grunwald, who became more than just a doctor and is now a family friend. In 2016, Chris lost his fight against leukemia. Our family will never be the same. I swim in memory of Chris. I swim to support leukemia research at Levine Cancer Institute, doing something I love.”

Pat Harrington – SAA – Houston (MAC Pool Swim)


Pat Harrington participated in SAA – Houston’s first pool swim of the year – MAC Against Cancer. Here is why Pat swims: “Swimming is “physical meditation” to me.  Moving through the water immediately puts me in “the zone” for the balance of the day.  Once I moved through college swimming, a ten year break, then into Master’s and attended my first Masters Nationals in Fort Lauderdale I was hooked.  While watching the age category of 95 to 100 year olds race backstroke (my best event) I was truly inspired to continue Master’s swimming forever. I first discovered SAA when my coach (the Hall of Famer Richard Quick) passed away from cancer in 2009 and I participated in his honor.  In early 2016 I was diagnosed with cancer and went through the “full meal deal” of chemo, surgery and radiation while continuing to swim.  Whenever I was able to get in the water, all my concerns and fears melted away. The fellowship, competition and comradery lifted me up and kept me positive and persistent. It still lifts me to this day and I am so grateful and blessed to have this world to play in.”

Kelly Walsh – SAA – Baltimore


Kelly Walsh is a top fundraiser in SAA – Baltimore right now. Here is why Kelly swims with SAA: “I was the one in eight – one in eight women who would get breast cancer. I never thought it would be me, no one ever does. But if cancer doesn’t affect us, it affects someone we care about. For me, it was one grandfather, one grandmother, five aunts and uncles, a cousin, myself and my husband. Last year, I swam for an aunt who was battling cancer for the fourth time. She passed away the weekend of the swim. This year, I swim for another aunt who is battling cancer for the second time. I swim for the every one in two men and every one in three women who will be diagnosed with cancer. And I swim for all our friends and family who are fighters, survivors and angels. I swim because they are our family and friends, not just statistics. With Swim Across America, I hope we can change some of those numbers.”

Candace Hendra – SAA – San Francisco


Candace Hendra has participated in multiple SAA events including: SAA – San Francisco, SAA – Atlanta and SAA – Chicago. Here is why Candace swims: “I have been associated with SAA since 2007….In 2006 I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer–my pledge to myself was to recover and give back and found SAA to be the perfect fit. I have completed multiple SAA events in SF Bay both as a swimming participant and as a volunteer swim angel. I also did the swim in Chicago(2010) and Atlanta(2017)–my plan is to do the Detroit swim this year—I am a native Detroiter. I was diagnosed with Salivary gland cancer in 2017–Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma. I swam throughout treatment with both episodes. I do the swim to give thanks and gratitude that I am still alive—-swimming and the daily feel of the water is a reminder of life and the need to move through it.”

Tori Kirkman – SAA – Tampa Bay

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Tori started swimming in high school and fell in love with the sport. After college, she joined an awesome team who introduced her to open water racing. She is new to the SAA community and said “Last year, I was walking by North Shore Park in St Pete and stumbled upon a race. That’s where I first learned about Swim Across America, and I vowed to myself I’d sign up next year.” She has many friends and family members who have been touched by cancer including her cousin, mom, boyfriend’s father and the list goes on. Tori also was a member of the Colleges Against Cancer, Biomedical Engineering Society where most of her research papers centered around emerging cancer treatment studies. Tori says “With Swim Across America, I can combine my love for the sport with my dream of us living in a world where fewer people are impacted by cancer, and those who are have cures available to them. Every dollar raised brings us closer to prevention, detection, treatments, and cures. I am trying to make a positive impact, and that is why I swim.”

Peter Carlson – SAA – Fairfield County

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Peter Carlson is one of the top fundraisers for SAA – Fairfield County right now and here is why Peter swims: “I swim because I know that by swimming, I can get many others involved in this cause that would not normally be involved in it. The cause is so important to all of us. I swim to raise money for cancer research. I swim in memory of and in honor of my many friends and family members who have been affected by cancer.” Peter raised over $32,500 last year for cancer gene therapy research through Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy (ACGT)!

Stephen Brown – SAA – Charlotte


Stephen Brown is the leading fundraiser for SAA – Charlotte. He has participated in the swim since it started 3 years ago and is co-captain for MSA Team Out My Box. Stephen is swimming in memory and honor of many friends. One of those friends, BJ Correll is a true inspiration for Stephen. He says, “In Dec 2015 I had the honor to meet BJ and make his life long dream come true to be a Navy SEAL by presenting him with a certificate from SEAL Team 8 naming him a honorary SEAL. BJ Correll fought the bravest and most courageous 3 1/2 year fight against aggressive acute lymphoblastic leukemia with grace and unwavering faith in God. He epitomized bravery and courage in the face of adversity. He never complained. His smile and the sparkle in his eyes remained throughout his fight. He was a true warrior. This year our MSA family has three teammates that are dealing with Cancer in their personal life. We are doing everything in our MSA family to be there for them. We are MSA Strong.”

Tiffani Panek – SAA – Baltimore


Tiffani has been participating in SAA – Baltimore since 2016 and is currently one of the top fundraisers for 2019. Tiffani says: “I swim in memory of so many of my friends and family I’ve lost and those that are still fighting. I joined in 2016 as part of Team Bayview even though I’d never done an open water swim before and was terrified. But if they could go through cancer, then I could do this. It was an incredible experience and I continue to swim every year for the day when cancer is a thing of the past.”

Joyce Kelly – SAA – San Francisco

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Joyce Kelly participates in SAA – San Francisco and is currently the top fundraiser. Here’s why she does it: “My sister-in-law and I live far apart. Nearby family members have helper her tremendously with meal deliveries, birthdays, etc. but because of distance I cannot help in the same way. I wanted her to know I am with her in her struggle. I never swam 1.75 miles in the SF Bay before and yes it’s a challenge but nothing like the challenge Karen faces confronting her cancer. If everyone does what they can – a call, a meal, a donation – and yes train to swim from the Golden Gate to shore we all move step by step (or stroke by stroke) towards a cancer free future.”

Lisa Simon – SAA – Chicago


Lisa has been involved with Swim Across America – Chicago since 2016 and is currently one of the top fundraisers for 2019! Here is why she swims: “In 2015, my dad passed away after a courageous and difficult battle with melanoma. Cancer is one of those diseases that will affect everyone at some point in their life. In 2016, I received an email for Swim Across America and thought this would be a great way for me to honor my dad. I joined Team Anne, Mike and Friends after a friend of mine introduced me. I swim in memory of my dad, Charles Simon. I swim in honor of family and friends who have battled and beat cancer. I swim for the young child to the adult who have battled cancer. I swim because we need to find a cure for cancer.”

Aaron Kwittken – SAA – Long Island Sound


Aaron Kwittken has been involved with SAA – Long Island Sound since 2017. Aaron suffered from severe, chronic asthma and allergies as a kid and didn’t learn to swim until he was 11 years old after the doctor said it would help rebuild his lungs. He was a competitive swimmer in high school and began racing in Ironman-distance triathlons 10 years ago. He says, “I swam the SAA – Long Island Sound 5K with Team Mackey in 2018 and watched my friend and our team captain, Mike Kelly conquer the 10K. His feat inspired me to train for the 10K this year. I am swimming in memory of my friends Kate Foster and Dave Robb. I too am a cancer survivor (melanoma). Swimming saved my life so now I swim to help save others.”


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