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!
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