Elizabeth Beisel and Swim Across America Share Grant Updates from BLOCK CANCER


On September 25th, 2021, three-time Olympian Elizabeth Beisel completed the 10.4-mile ocean swim from mainland Rhode Island to Block Island. Elizabeth partnered with Swim Across America for “Block Cancer” to honor her father, Ted Beisel, who passed in 2021 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Elizabeth became the first woman to successfully complete the swim raising over $160,000.


In addition to the $160,000 Elizabeth raised, Swim Across America raised an additional $500,000, with appreciation to the Lustgarten Foundation, to create a $660,000 grant bucket. The $660,000 is being applied to three grants to fight pancreatic cancer in honor of Ted Beisel:

a) A $60,000 grant to Dr. Peter Yu (NYU) pancreatic research metabolism study was awarded in 2022
b) A $300,000 grant to Dr. Ajay Goel (City of Hope) to conduct research for pancreatic detection was awarded in 2023
c) A $300,000 grant for pancreatic research will be announced in April of 2024

Photo: Elizabeth presents the award to Dr. Yu at Swim Across America—Rhode Island

Swim Across America Celebrates 35 Years of Impact in Times Square with Clear Channel Outdoor

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Swim Across America is celebrating 35 years of impact this year in our public service message with Clear Channel Outdoor  in Times Square. We highlighted some of the incredible milestones we’ve achieved as an organization thanks to the tireless efforts of our swimmers, volunteers and donors. You can read more about our history at swimacrossamerica.org/35. Thank you for #MakingWavesToFightCancer with us. And if you are inspired to help others, find a charity swim near you at swimacrossamerica.org. Thanks to the Clear Channel Outdoor team for supporting the Swim Across America mission on the largest scale! You can read about more about the partnership here.

Times Square Details: The 30 second ad is running for 3 weeks in July. The two screens stand 100 feet tall combined  –  55′ H x 31′ W and 44′ H x 44′ W and the location was adjacent to Duffy Square and the TKTS on Broadway between 46th and 47th Streets.

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35 Stories of Impact: Jay Peluso of SAA-Richmond

Jay Peluso
Swim Across America – Richmond

5 years with Swim Across America
Age 50; Raised over $130,000 with SAA-Richmond as Event Director

“The folks at Swim Across America were amazing. They helped us so much I can’t even explain it.”

Before joining Swim Across America’s Richmond swim, Jay Peluso used to own an event company called Peluso Open Water that produced open water swimming events and SwimRun events. Jay has always loved swimming. But in his previous life, he was an attorney. He had left the practice of law to focus on his new company after one of his law office partners had gone through cancer treatments. Jay decided he was going to turn one of his events into a Swim Across America fundraising event, in honor of his colleague who had been impacted by cancer. Jay reached out to Rob Butcher, Swim Across America’s CEO, whom he had known through his days at the U.S. Masters Swimming organization, and the first-ever Swim Across America Richmond event was hosted in 2018! Fast forward through the pandemic and Jay’s life changed dramatically. 

“I went back to practicing law, and let’s just say, the event world had taken a major hit from the pandemic,” said Jay. “I told Rob Butcher and the Swim Across America team that I just couldn’t run the 2022 event.” 

A few months after Jay had made his decision to return to the practice of law, he got a life-changing call from his sister, Michele. “I have cancer,” said Michele on the other line. Jay felt lost and didn’t know what to do, so he reached out to Rob Butcher for advice and direction. 

“The folks at Swim Across America were amazing. They helped us so much I can’t even explain it,” said Jay. With advice from the Swim Across America medical advisors, Michele is now being treated for ovarian cancer at Rhode Island Women and Infants Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island,  which is the Swim Across America Rhode Island beneficiary, and also being seen by a team at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, the Swim Across America Boston beneficiary. 

“I felt such gratitude,” said Jay. “One night my girlfriend Wynne and I stayed up late talking about how thankful we were for everyone at Swim Across America. I won’t lie, a few tears were shed and we both decided that we HAD to be sure the Swim Across America Richmond event happened. So we shared our story and are back in full force with an August 27 event date and a large team of volunteers. Michele is undergoing her third round of treatment and as Rob likes to say, ’THERE IS HOPE.’”

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.

$4.2M granted to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance

To date, Swim Across America has contributed close to $4.2 million for clinical research at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and Fred Hutch. Starting in 2019, funds raised from the SAA-Seattle have gone to support breakthrough research by young investigators. In 2021, six grants were awarded to researchers focused on: lymphoma, sarcoma, breast, pancreatic, and urological cancer research. Below, the grant recipients share progress statements on their research over the last year.

Dr. Meghan Flanagan

Dr. Meghan Flanagan
Research focus: Breast cancer
Project title: Association of HSD3B1 (1245C) genotype with recurrence among post-menopausal women with estrogen receptor- positive, HER2- negative breast cancer
Background: Endocrine (antiestrogen) therapy reduces the risk of recurrence and improves mortality among women with hormone-receptor positive breast cancer. However, approximately one-quarter of women are inherently resistant or develop resistance to endocrine therapy. Ultimately, this research may allow us to identify women with innate endocrine resistance and develop novel therapeutics and treatment strategies.
Progress Statement: The SAA funds were used to evaluate whether an association exists between a mutation in a gene (HSD3B1, involved in hormone biosynthesis) and breast cancer outcomes. Using extensively collected clinical and pathologic data about patient demographics, tumor and treatment data and recurrence rates, we were able to show that women with two mutations in the HSD3B1 gene had higher rates of distant metastatic recurrence compared to those women who did not have this mutation. Future studies will be forthcoming to determine how this mutation may decrease the effectiveness of anti-estrogen medications that are used universally in post-menopausal ER+ breast cancer. This mutation is found in up to 15 percent of ER+ post-menopausal breast cancer patients, and if shown to decrease the effectiveness of anti-estrogen medications, there would be potential indications for alternative treatment strategies in these patients.

Dr. Sita Kugel

Dr. Sita Kugel
Research focus: Pancreatic Cancer
Project title: Exploring novel functions of HMGA2 in pancreatic cancer
Background: Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma (PDA) is an extremely lethal disease with a 5-year survival rate of less than 10%. Recent work has led to the discovery that PDA can be subdivided into two principal subtypes based on transcriptional signatures: classical and quasi-mesenchymal (QM). The QM PDA subtype is more aggressive and has the worst overall survival. Our laboratory has been focused on understanding of the mechanisms that drive each subtype in hopes of identifying therapeutic vulnerabilities that may be exploited in the clinic.
Progress Statement: Within an already challenging malignancy, there are transcriptional subtypes of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma that are especially lethal. Understanding what defines each subtype, as well as their susceptibilities and mechanisms of resistance, will help to identify new targeted therapies or combination therapies and lead to more treatment options for this devastating disease.

Dr. Jonathan Sham

Dr. Jonathan Sham
Research focus: Pancreatic Cancer
Project title: Novel Drug- eluting Biopolymer to Reduce Pancreatic Fistula and Improve Outcomes After Pancreatic Surgery
Background: Pancreatectomy is the mainstay of any potentially curative treatment regimen for pancreatic cancer. Despite an overall improvement in the safety of pancreatic surgery over the past several decades, the morbidity of pancreatectomy remains exceedingly high. The most significant complication after pancreatic surgery is postoperative pancreatic fistula (POPF), which occurs in up to 60% of cases. The use of a biopolymer, poly(Nisopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAM), is an innovative method to prevent leakage of pancreatic juice from the cut surface of the gland, while the suspended octreotide- eluting microspheres will simultaneously reduce baseline pancreatic fluid secretion. This novel dual-action approach will be tested in a validated rat model of POPF with the goal of rapid clinical translation and patient benefit.
Progress Statement: Swim Across America is advancing our work to improve outcomes after pancreatic surgery. Their support is enabling a trailblazing collaboration between surgeons and bioengineers to develop novel ways to stop leaks after pancreas surgery and make patients live happier, healthier and longer lives. Polymer synthesis is moving forward, and two teams are working on creating and testing polymers with different characteristics for use in our animal experiments.

Dr. Jordan Gauthier

Dr. Jordan Gauthier
Research focus: CAR T-cell therapy
Project title: Factors associated with failure of CD19 CAR T cells in diffuse large B cell lymphoma
Background: We are investigating two factors potentially critical to failure of CD19 CAR T-cell therapy for DLBCL: a) T cell dysfunction, impeding the generation of functional CAR T cells during manufacturing; b) the suppressive tumor microenvironment (TME). Our studies will better characterize T cell dysfunction and the TME as core mechanisms of failure of CD19 CAR T cells and identify potential targets to improve outcomes of CAR T-cell therapy for DLBCL.
Progress Statement: The Swim Across America grant allowed us to explore the two following aims.
Aim 1: To determine whether exhausted T cells are associated with treatment failure after CAR T-cell therapy for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). We analyzed blood samples from 34 DLBCL patients treated on a clinical trial of CAR T-cell therapy. While we did not confirm an association between exhausted T cells and treatment failure, we found that a higher proportion of terminally differentiated T cells may have an adverse impact on the outcomes of CAR T-cell therapy.
Aim 2: To determine if an exhausted gene signature in T cells from lymphoma tumors is associated with treatment failure, we analyzed pre-treatment tumor biopsies obtained from 17 patients receiving CAR T-cell therapy. In biopsies from patients in complete response after CAR T-cell therapy, we found that T cell-associated genes were overexpressed compared to patients not in complete response after treatment. This suggests that tumors more permissive to T cell infiltration might respond better to CAR T-cell therapy. So far, we have not confirmed that an exhausted gene signature is associated with treatment failure. The SAA grant has been used to design and optimize novel assays that will allow us to further address this aim in the future.

Dr. John Lee

Dr. John Lee
Research focus: Sarcoma
Project title: Development of STEAP1 chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy for Ewing sarcoma
Background: Ewing sarcoma (ES) is a soft tissue/bone cancer with 200 newly diagnosed adolescents/young adults per year in the United States. Patients with metastatic dissemination face a very grim prognosis as available treatments are unable to eradicate the disease. New therapeutic approaches are needed. If successful, these studies will help lay the groundwork for the development and clinical translation of a first-in-field STEAP1 CAR T-cell immunotherapy for ES.
Progress Statement: We applied the Swim Across America grant to evaluate whether a novel chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy targeting the protein STEAP1 could be an effective strategy to treat Ewing sarcoma. Our results indicate that human Ewing sarcoma tumor models commonly express STEAP1 and are susceptible to killing by STEAP1 CAR T cells. In related studies, we have also determined that STEAP1 CAR T cell therapy appears safe in a novel mouse model that we engineered to express human STEAP1. Together, these findings provide the rational to translate STEAP1 CAR T cell therapy into clinical trials for Ewing sarcoma in the near future.

Dr. Adam Gadzinski

Dr. Adam Gadzinski
Research focus:
Urological cancer
Project title: Interstate Telehealth to improve access to urological cancer care among rural patients.
Background: Timely access to urological cancer care is challenging for rural patients who often travel great distances to tertiary centers. This is particularly true for patients residing in the WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho) region. We hypothesize that Telehealth will provide similar patient satisfaction, reduced costs, and earlier time to treatment. We further hypothesize that implementation of the interstate Telehealth program will decrease referral to visit time and increase clinical efficiency. Lastly, we hypothesize that providing Telehealth appointments will increase the frequency of referrals from rural areas. We anticipate that implementation of our interstate Telehealth program will improve access to urological cancer care for rural and underserved patients throughout the WWAMI region.
Progress Statement: Our SAA grant has been used to support our telemedicine research efforts to assess the quality of telemedicine visits for cancer patients from rural areas and the Pacific Northwest states. We have demonstrated that telemedicine visits save cancer patients and their families a significant amount of time and money that would have been spent traveling to doctor appointments. We also found that patients are very satisfied with receiving cancer care remotely via telemedicine, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than $2M Awarded to Chicago Rush University Medical Center by Swim Across America

With the support of Swim Across America grant funding, researchers at Rush University Medical Center are gaining momentum in their quest to discover the early detection tools and treatment options of the future in the fight against cancer. RUSH’s experts intimately understand the physical, emotional and financial burdens of cancer on patients’ lives, and they refuse to let the disease rest as the second leading cause of death in the U.S. Since 2012, Swim Across America–Chicago has awarded More than $2M that has funded these early stage research projects.

Dr. Carl Maki

Grant Recipient: Carl Maki, PhD
Professor in the Department of Anatomy & Cell Biology at Rush Medical College

Project: Targeting proteins to improve drug responses for patients with treatment-resistant breast and lung cancers

Project Details: By studying cancer at the molecular level, Maki and his team have made significant strides in identifying promising new options for treatment-resistant breast and lung cancers.

In 2015 Maki received an SAA grant to study a family of enzymes known as prolyl peptidases (which regulate blood pressure and appetite) as a possible mechanism to help prevent or alleviate resistance to the drug tamoxifen, one of the most widely used therapies for the 80% of women with breast cancer whose tumors are considered estrogen receptor-positive. Maki and his team found that an enzyme inhibitor for prolyl peptidases, used in conjunction with tamoxifen, effectively killed breast cancer cells in rodents. Using these promising findings, Maki applied for and received a prestigious R01 research award for continued study from the National Institutes of Health and a grant from the Department of Defense to extend this research into triple-negative breast cancer.

In 2020 Maki was awarded another SAA grant to study proteins called histone demethylases in non-small cell lung cancer. Among the deadliest of all cancers, this accounts for about 4 in 5 lung cancer cases. Maki and his colleagues are studying how these proteins may allow lung cancer cells to resist the drugs currently used to treat the disease. By blocking these proteins, the team has been able to kill lung cancer cells in laboratory studies and lung tumors in mice. They identified a novel mechanism for how these inhibitors improve treatment outcomes and recently published their results.

“What starts out as an idea might result in something great,” Maki said. “SAA gives less established researchers a chance and helps all researchers fund pilot projects that ultimately can lead to bigger things.”

Dr. Animesh Barua

Grant Recipient: Animesh Barua, PhD
Associate Professor in the Department of Anatomy & Cell Biology at Rush Medical College
Director of the Proteomics Core and MicroRNA and Gene Expression Core

Project: Seeking an improved early detection test for ovarian cancer

Project Details: Throughout his career, Barua has relentlessly pursued the development of an effective early detection test for ovarian cancer. With an SAA grant received in 2020, he and his team are drawing upon extensive experience with immunoassays and ultrasound imaging of ovarian tumors to take the next steps forward in this important area of research. In this study, Barua’s lab is developing a fresh approach to early detection testing involving the fimbriae (fingerlike protein branches that guide an egg during ovulation) of the fallopian tubes. Emerging information shows that high-grade serous carcinoma — the most malignant and most common type of ovarian cancer — originates from the fimbriae. The aims of Barua’s study include identifying specific protein markers associated with cancer development in the fimbriae and determining the efficacy of these markers in predicting cancer growth.

Dr. Amanda Marzo

Grant Recipient: Amanda Marzo, PhD
Assistant Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology, Oncology and Cell Therapy at Rush Medical College

Project: Bolstering the body’s natural immune response for greater success in the battle against breast cancer

Project Details: Tumor-infiltrating CD8 T-cells are essential for tumor immunity. However, many of these cells become exhausted and are unable to protect against tumor growth. Key molecules known as checkpoint inhibitors, such as programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) expressed on tumor cells and programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) expressed on CD8 T-cells, have been shown to be a hallmark of CD8 T-cell exhaustion. For most tumors, blocking PD-1/PD-L1 signaling does not result in tumor rejection. A main cause for the ineffectiveness of checkpoint blockade immunotherapy lies in the dysfunctional state of CD8 T-cells once they enter the tumor. CD8 T-cells are specialized in killing tumor cells but face multiple suppressive signals that dampen their ability to effectively respond. Using an SAA grant received in 2019,Marzo and her colleagues seek to improve scientists’ understanding of how other immune-modulating treatments can improve CD8 T-cell responsiveness to checkpoint inhibitors. Specifically, the researchers aim to determine if metformin, an anti-diabetic drug, could enhance tumor-infiltrating CD8 T-cell responsiveness to PD-1 blockade therapy by altering breast cancer metabolism. The team also seeks to establish if bolstering the number of infiltrating CD8 T-cells into the tumor using interleukin-15 complexes (known to cause proliferation of cells and increase their killing ability) in combination with PD-1 blockade therapy could induce regression of established breast tumors and lead to long-term tumor immunity. Marzo and her team plan to publish the results of their study and are using preliminary data generated from this research to apply for a federal R21 grant.

Dr. Alan Blank

Grant Recipients: Alan T. Blank, MD, MS
Assistant Professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Section of Orthopedic Oncology at Rush Medical College

Jitesh Pratap, PhD
Associate Professor in the Department of Anatomy & Cell Biology at Rush Medical College

Dr. Jitesh Pratap

Project: Pursuing therapeutic approaches to prevent breast cancers from

metastasizing to the bones

Project Details: In this study funded by a 2019 SAA grant, Blank and Pratap seek to fulfill a need for the development of a therapy that can prevent primary breast cancers from metastasizing to the bones and surviving there. The researchers hypothesize, based on results of previous studies, that a subgroup of patients with breast cancer that has metastasized to the bone has high levels of autophagy (a process of recycling of cellular components), Runx2 proteins and acetylated α-tubulin — worsening their chances of survival. To investigate this, the researchers are working to determine the clinicopathologic association with the autophagy pathway in tumor samples from patients with cancer that has metastasized to the bone. They are also creating patient-derived xenograft models of bone metastasis. Blank and Pratap hope the results of this study will propel the development of better combinatorial therapeutic approaches to treat bone metastasis.

Dr. Faraz Bishehsari

Grant Recipient: Faraz Bishehsari, MD, PhD
Associate Professor of Medicine & the Graduate College in the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Digestive Diseases and Nutrition, Section of Gastroenterology at Rush Medical College
Associate Director for Molecular & Translational Research for the Rush Center for Integrated Microbiome & Chronobiology Research

Project: Pursuing precision medicine to improve outcomes for pancreatic cancer patients

Project Details: Patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma — the most common form of pancreatic cancer — face poor survival rates, with only 6%-8% of patients surviving five years after diagnosis. This cancer does not respond well to targeted therapies. Bishehsari and his colleagues received an SAA grant in 2019 to establish a platform towards precision medicine in order to tailor therapies based on patients’ individual tumor characteristics. The researchers have developed primary cancer cells from a small tissue sample obtained during diagnostic pancreatic biopsies from pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas. Molecular profiling of these patient-derived tumor organoids explained the variation in response to a variety of conventional and investigational therapies. They are optimizing this platform to help eventually establish individualized treatments for pancreatic cancer patients.

Dr. Jeff Borgia

Grant Recipient: Jeffrey A. Borgia, PhD
Associate Professor in the Department of Anatomy & Cell Biology at Rush Medical College
Director of the Rush University Cancer Center Biorepository and Rush Biomarker Development Core

Project: Identifying biomarkers for the improved evaluation and treatment of stage I non-small cell lung cancer

Project Details: Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related mortality in the United States, but evidence is surfacing that widespread lung cancer screening programs may improve patient outcomes when the disease is detected early. Borgia and his team received an SAA grant in 2020 to develop a new diagnostic method to improve physicians’ ability to predict the recurrence of stage I non-small cell lung cancer, or NSCLC. This would help physicians identify patients who would benefit from adjuvant treatment options or closer surveillance. The aims of this study include identifying biomarkers for disease recurrence in stage I NSCLC patients and evaluating these biomarkers for their value in predicting recurrence.

Swim Across America has supported cancer research at Rush University Medical Center since 2012 through more than $2 million in grant funding. Together, Swim Across America and RUSH are relentlessly fighting cancer, working to save lives.

Swim Across America Provides Grant Funding That Helps Lead to 100% Cancer Remission

June 9, 2022—The New England Journal of Medicine published a paper on June 5 that 12 patients completed a phase 2 clinical trial for advanced rectal cancer and showed a 100% clinical complete response to dostarlimab, an immunotherapy treatment produced by GlaxoSmithKline. The clinical trial was conducted at Memorial Sloan Kettering with early-stage grant funding from Swim Across America.

Reviews of the clinical trial and quotes in the New York Times from cancer experts are hopeful:

“I believe this (a 100% response) is the first time this has happened in the history of cancer,” commented Dr. Luis Diaz, an author of the New England Journal of Medicine paper.

Dr. Luis Diaz, Memorial Sloan Kettering

“There were a lot of happy tears,” said Dr. Andrea Cercek, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and a co-author of the paper.

Depending on patient size and other factors, the cost to run a clinical trial can run into millions of dollars. Early-stage sponsors such as Swim Across America are necessary to fund the costs. Swim Across America’s grant for the MSK clinical trial helped fund the science and speed of sharing of information. Other funding partners of the MSK clinical trial are the Simon and Eve Colin Foundation, GlaxoSmithKline, Stand Up to Cancer, and the National Cancer Institute. Swim Across America is delighted with the results and continues to provide grant support.

Swim Across America.

Swim Across America’s grant agreement with beneficiaries such as Memorial Sloan Kettering requires that 100% of an SAA grant must be spent on approved research and clinical trial programs. In 35-years, SAA has granted nearly $100M to innovative and otherwise unfunded ideas so that the time of oncologists such as Dr. Cercek and Dr. Diaz is protected to make progress and develop new treatments.

Swim Across America has a proven track record of identifying and funding early-stage ideas of promise. Swim Across America grants have played a major role in clinically developing FDA-approved immunotherapy treatments ipilimumab (YERVOY), nivolumab (OPDIVO), pembrolizumab (KEYTRUDA), and atezolizumab (TECENTRIQ).

You can volunteer or swim by visiting swimacrossamerica.org/communities

New England Journal of Medicine: https://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMoa2201445

Swim Across America-Long Island Sound

Colorado Community Makes Waves to Benefit Children’s Hospital Colorado

Picture a sunny and warm mid-August morning in Colorado. Retired Olympians such as Missy Franklin and George DiCarlo are smiling with water enthusiasts of all ages and abilities. They enter the water of Chatfield Reservoir in Littleton to “Make Waves to Fight Cancer” with the Swim Across America-Denver charity swim. There’s a sense of community as supporters and family cheer for them. Not because they’ll be racing for first place, rather because they’re all there to raise money that will provide grants for pediatric cancer at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Created in 2018, Swim Across America-Denver has granted $545,917 to research projects at the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Colorado. Uniquely, all the proceeds from Swim Across America-Denver stay in our community to fund research projects at Children’s Colorado where philanthropic grants from Swim Across America are necessary to make progress in giving hope to kids and their families who are fighting cancer. Here are the projects that are being funded by SAA:

  • The acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) research project, led by Drs. Amanda Winters, Taizo Nakano, and Craig Forester, aimed at bringing new therapies into phase II of clinical trials for pediatric MDS and AML to better define how to diagnose, classify and treat MDS patients.
  • The tumor research project, led by Dr. Adam Green, which will characterize the immune response to new brain tumors to better establish which types are amenable to cancer immunotherapy and provide a new prognostic marker for these diseases.
  • The sepsis biomarker project, led by Dr. Leonora Slatnick, will lead to novel ways of diagnosing and managing infectious complications in immunosuppressed patients.
  • The CAR-T Cell project, led by Dr. Lindsey Murphy and collaborating with Dr. Winters and members of the BMT-Cellular Therapeutics team, aims to use novel laboratory methods for detecting CAR-T cells in patients receiving those therapies to better understand how patients respond to these therapies and improve cure rates.

“With [Swim Across America grants] we’re building the largest national database on pediatric myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) to collect data on all of the past and future children with this life-threatening disorder. SAA’s contribution will help encourage research collaboration at over 50 children’s hospitals to enter data that will help develop a national standards-of-practice to treat pediatric MDS,” said Taizo Nakano, MD.

Grants from SAA will also be used to fund site initiation of a nationwide clinical trial for pediatric MDS at Children’s Colorado and will also be critical for Dr. Forester and Dr. Winters as they investigate the biological activity of the drug combination being tested.

“This will allow us to understand why the drugs work for pediatric MDS and perhaps enable us to predict at diagnosis which children with MDS are more or less likely to benefit from these drugs,” said Amanda Winters, MD.

“We welcome and invite our Colorado community to join us,” said Nicole Vanderpoel and Jessica Vitcenda, community leaders for SAA—Denver. “You can swim, volunteer or do a virtual activity with all the proceeds staying in Denver to benefit Children’s Colorado.”

Learn more about SAA-Denver and how you can get involved by visiting Swim Across America – Denver.  

35 Stories of Impact: Eric Vitcenda of SAA-Denver

Eric Vitcenda
Swim Across America – Denver

4 years with Swim Across America
Age 58; Raised over $14,000 across all events

“I have committed myself to helping others accomplish their goals, and help raise awareness and money for cancer research, specifically for Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.”

Eric Vitcenda was introduced to Swim Across America in 2017 while competing at Ironman Maryland when he asked about another triathlete’s SAA t-shirt. Soon after, his wife and SAA-Denver Co-event director, Jessica’s swim pod initiated efforts to bring SAA to the Denver area. With his swimming and volunteer experience, he knew he could do something to help and make a difference.  

Eric was “voluntold” he would handle the “SAA World”; little did he know what that would mean, or what it would eventually lead to.  From initial coordination of receiving, storing, and transporting the SAA site equipment to camping overnight to ensure its security at the event site there is no limit to Eric’s volunteering and support of SAA. “I learned to set—and reset—the event course, blow up the buoys, and ensure the SAA arch was ready to welcome participants and provide a sunrise photo shoot.  I may miss out on the opening ceremonies, but I’m driven to make the event as memorable as possible with the goal of increasing future participation and donations.  And the people I meet each year and the friends I have made as a result are my reward.”

Eric has since moved on to be a leader in his Denver community when it comes to spreading the mission of SAA and wanting to make a difference in cancer research. From coordinating pool swims, rallying his company to get involved, donating platelets to cancer patients and teaching one of SAA-Denver’s patient ambassadors, Markus to swim – a week prior to last year’s event. “We told Markus that a half-mile was quite an accomplishment for a non-swimmer, and his exhausted smile when he came out of the water was the best reward for all my efforts throughout the year to support and promote SAA. I have used that day since to motivate me to work hard and find unique ways to make sure people across Colorado and the country know about SAA and what has been accomplished over the past 35 years” says Eric.

While Eric has been fortunate enough to have a healthy and active life, he has been inspired by those around him going through their own battle with cancer to make a difference in their honor. His aunt is a breast cancer survivor and in 2018 he lost a dear friend and coworker to cancer. He later found out that the coworker’s daughter had received treatment at Children’s Hospital Colorado, the beneficiary of SAA-Denver fundraising and awareness efforts. This led Eric to become the captain of Team WorldPay Colorado, in their honor. “I have committed myself to helping others accomplish their goals, and help raise awareness and money for cancer research, specifically for Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.”

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.

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.

35 Stories of Impact: Team Gans Strong of SAA-Charlotte

Sandra & Allie Gans
Swim Across America – Charlotte

5 years with Swim Across America
Sandra 57; Allie 26; Raised over $11,000 across all events

“We continue to give back to the cancer community in Charlotte, which we know all too well, to give hope to all of the families who unfortunately have to go through the same thing as us. We hope that maybe one day the word cancer will be the past. We hope that hearing the word cancer doesn’t present the immediate feeling of fear. We hope that cancer will no longer be an earth-shattering diagnosis, but something that can be treated and even prevented.”

In 2017, the Gans Family’s world was completely flipped upside down when Jeff Gans was diagnosed with oral cancer. Allie, the youngest of the family, was finishing up her senior year of college and frequenting home to be with her Dad. Jeff went through hours of intensive surgery that left him with a trach and unable to speak for days but ultimately removed the cancer from his body. Fast forward a few months, Allie graduated college and was looking to start her career when she got connected to Swim Across America. Needless to say it was a perfect match being able to work for an organization that raises funds to further cancer research. Not to mention, the Charlotte Swim supports Levine Cancer Institute, where Jeff was treated.

Soon after Allie joined the team, her mom Sandra got involved as she wanted a way to give back to the cancer community and help others that were going through the same thing as they had. The two started Team Gans Strong in 2018 and the team has raised over $10,000 to support cancer research in their Charlotte community since. 

In 2021, Sandra and Allie decided to take their involvement deeper and became co-event directors for SAA-Charlotte. The mother-daughter duo led the Charlotte swim in 2021 which raised over $215,000 to fund cancer research and clinical trials.

In October of 2021, just three weeks after the Charlotte swim, Jeff was informed he had a recurrence of oral cancer. He has since undergone another extensive surgery, chemo & immunotherapy, six weeks of radiation and started his long road to recovery. All of that making Swim Across America even more purposeful this year. Team Gans Strong is dedicated to raising funds to further cancer research here in Charlotte and provide hope and inspiration for those in the same boat. 

“We continue to give back to the cancer community in Charlotte, which we know all too well, to give hope to all of the families who unfortunately have to go through the same thing as us. We hope that maybe one day the word cancer will be the past. We hope that hearing the word cancer doesn’t present the immediate feeling of fear. We hope that cancer will no longer be an earth-shattering diagnosis, but something that can be treated and even prevented.”

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.