35 Stories of Impact: Olympian Roots of SAA-Atlanta

Swim Across America – Atlanta
10 years of Olympian support

10 years ago Olympians helped bring SAA to Atlanta,” says 1980 US Olympic team member Megan Neyer.

1988 Olympian Daniel Watters helped start the Swim Across America – Dallas swim in the early 2000s. Years later, Daniel asked his friend and former college swimmer Sheri Hart to clone the event in Atlanta. In 2013, Swim Across America-Atlanta was established with the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta as the beneficiary. Since its inception, SAA-Atlanta has raised more than $2.6 million to support cancer research.

SAA-Atlanta has had incredible Olympian support since its inception. Olympians include Craig Beardsley, Carlton Bruner, Maritza Correia McClendon, Nei-Kuan Chia, Hali Flickinger, Missy Franklin, Geoff Gaberino, Andrew Gemmell, Doug Gjertsen, Bobby Hackett, McClain Hermes, Katie Hoff, Joe Hudepohl, Janel Jorgensen McArdle, Kristy Kowal, Kara Lynn Joyce, Steve Lundquist, Megan Neyer, Heather Petri, Ramon Valle, Neil Versfeld, Shannon Vreeland, Daniel Watters, Amanda Weir, Ashley Whitney, Peter Wright, Eric Wunderlich and Paige Zemina who have all participated over the years. Each of them having their own story as to why they got involved. Having Olympic swimmers involved in the SAA events provides an exciting experience for participants and inspires others to get involved, support and swim.

Megan Neyer, a diver on the 1980 US Olympic team and 15x national springboard champion, joined the Swim Across America-Atlanta family at its inception in 2013. “10 years ago Olympians helped bring SAA to Atlanta,” said Megan Neyer. Megan, who has spent her life involved with aquatics, has personally seen numerous cancer diagnoses impact those close to her. “I have lost too many family and friends to cancer – both of my parents (my mother died during the inaugural year of the ATL event in 2013), my Aunt, too many friends, and most recently, in 2021, a dear family friend who was only 42.  I have a brother who is a three-time cancer survivor who was also a swimmer in college. I am passionate about Swim Across America’s mission because I want to make sure that children afflicted with cancer have the opportunity to live full lives.” 

1996 Olympian Peter Wright joined Swim Across America-Atlanta in 2014, shortly after his brother-in-law (and good friend) was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Peter’s brother in law was successfully treated and is now leading a healthy life. Peter was extremely grateful for the donations from so many that allowed his brother in law to receive the proper treatment and he began to look for ways to make a bigger difference when he came across SAA.  “Swim Across America was the perfect answer.  After participating for the first time in 2014, I had to continue my involvement.  SAA is filled with some of the best people you will ever meet. I am proud to just be a part of this group.”

Nei-Kuan Chia had originally gone to medical school in Tampa. During orientation, Nei-Kuan was taken on a tour of the Moffitt Cancer Center. There he met a kid, who was being treated for cancer, and his family that shaped his outlook on his career and life. “I had a chance to spend time with them that day and would visit with them each time he was there for treatment. That experience made me want to be a pediatric oncologist.” Although his career took a different turn and he never finished medical school, he has always kept the desire to help in the fight against cancer. “I’ve had family members who have battled cancer and my fiancé’s dad passed away from cancer. When I was asked to participate in Swim Across America, it gave me that chance to fulfill my long desire to help fight the battle against cancer.  Being a father and a swimmer, SAA Atlanta perfectly combines all my passions together in helping to directly support the Children’s Hospital of Atlanta and pediatric cancer research through swimming.”

Geoff Gaberino, a 1984 Olympian,  has been involved with Swim Across America since 1992, when he swam in the SAA-Nantucket event. Geoff’s friend, Craig Beardsley brought him into the fold. Geoff had a love for swimming, his comrades and has also been impacted by cancer. “My maternal grandmother died of breast cancer.  I never knew her.  So I swim and participate in her memory.” That is not the only reason Geoff has spent the last three decades supporting SAA. “The reason that I come back year over year is to spend time with the kids in the hospitals.  They are inspirational.  They have such life and joy, especially given their fight.  Though I might bring a little joy to their day when we visit, they bring me such hope for what is possible through this cause.”

Swim Across America is grateful for the continued support of Olympians and special guests who have donated their time to support the SAA cause. These Olympians have attended our swims and special events helping generate awareness and raising donations for our beneficiaries.

Swim Across America is celebrating 35 years of impact in 2022. SAA has raised $100 million since its inception in 1987 to support cancer research and clinical trials across the U.S. Please contact Jeni Howard at jhoward@jhowardpr.com for media inquiries.

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