#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.

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

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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