Finding New Meaning in Swim Across America Participation

Susan McPherson

Swim Across America – Nashville

Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee

6 years with Swim Across America

Age: 79

Susan McPherson was no stranger to Swim Across America, but her contributions were always in honor of other family members and friends who had cancer diagnoses. After a shocking diagnosis in December 2020, the reason to support Swim Across America-Nashville now became much more personal for Susan.

“I went to the doctor because I was experiencing new-onset shortness of breath and found out I was anemic. After additional tests, the doctors told me they found a large tumor and multiple metastases in my abdomen and that I had stage four colon cancer.”

Susan’s particular genetic profile made her a candidate for immunotherapy. She began treatment at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, which is the beneficiary of the Swim Across America-Nashville Pool Swim.

“In fact, the type of immunotherapy I was given – Keytruda – was developed in the Swim Across America funded lab at the Johns Hopkins Cancer Center! What an incredibly serendipitous moment it was when I realized that the treatment that could help save my life was initially funded through Swim Across America fundraising events.”

Susan received treatment for two years and is now cancer-free. And her participation in this year’s Swim Across America – Nashville event is that much more poignant.

Susan’s daughter-in-law, Chris, is one of the event directors and coaches at the Ensworth Natatorium where the event is held. Her son, John, is a cardiologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. For the second year, Chris and John will swim with their team “Chris’ Cancer Crushers” in their endeavor to “make waves to fight cancer.”

Swim Across America 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 for media inquiries.

Cancer Survivor Inspired to Help Establish SAA-Florida Keys Event

Glenn Latham

Swim Across America – Florida Keys

Hometown: Islamorada, Florida

2 years supporting Swim Across America

Age: 68

“Both my parents, two of my three siblings, and I have all battled cancer. Fortunately, due to lots of prayer, family support and modern technology, I am in remission and celebrating 11 years cancer-free.”

And thanks to a chance meeting with a Swim Across America Board Member, Glenn and his wife, Susan, are now dedicated to bringing hope to families fighting cancer.

As a cancer survivor, Glenn was involved with different charities prior to moving to the Keys. Glenn’s love of swimming led to that chance encounter with a Board Member who shared the story of Swim Across America and our mission to fund innovative cancer research.

“My wife and I were immediately interested, and together we decided to organize the first SAA event in the Florida Keys. Our inaugural event in 2022 was a huge success, and the community involvement was amazing.”

The two Islamorada residents are Co-Event Directors for the second annual Swim Across America – Florida Keys event on April 15 benefitting Miami Cancer Institute.

“Being involved with Swim Across America has been a wonderful experience. I hope to continue to help with our own event and attend other swims. I believe we need to expand cancer research, and the funding that Swim Across America generates is of huge value.”

“It is particularly gratifying meeting and working with key members of the local medical research institution, Swim Across America staff, Olympians and local community supporters.” 

Swim Across America 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 for media inquiries.

#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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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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.”