In 2020, Swim Across America transitioned from open water swims to fun and exciting virtual challenges in each city. We’re highlighting some of the best ‘Making Waves to Fight Cancer’ stories with Swim Across America this year!
I have a story. It’s a story of purpose, grit, and humanity. It’s the kind of story that becomes a movie.
In 1984, a team of childhood friends lead by cancer survivor Jeff Keith ran across the United States. The run took nine months. The team faced challenge after challenge. It tested their human spirit. Incredibly (in a time of no internet or e-mail) they raised $1M for cancer research.
Matt Vossler was part of the run. In 1987, Matt was inspired to do more for the cancer community. So he created a charity swim across Long Island Sound. The beginning of a movement was born. A movement that would pioneer new and lifesaving options for cancer patients. Swim Across America’s movement has grown to charity swims in more than 20 communities. But Swim Across America’s ability to make an impact for cancer research and support programs is because of your generosity.
Donations from you have directly lead to breakthroughs to fighting cancer. Cancer is now being treated with immunotherapy, personalized medicine and gene therapy. Treatments that we’ve been funding with your donations. Treatments in 1987 that weren’t available. Doctors are now telling families, “there is hope.” And you are part of the story.
Your donations have given families the most precious gift. The gift of time. The gift of more time to celebrate birthdays, to attend weddings, and pass on family values.
Any other year, we’d be planning to see you at a charity swim. Circumstances required we come up with a new program for 2020. We hope you will join our Swim Across America Challenge. Publish your SAA Challenge on social and tag @SAASwim. We’re watching with anticipation and want to share your story.
We hope you will invite others to participate. Anyone can do any activity for their Swim Across America Challenge. See our communities and join the one that best fits your interest.
Our Swim Across America founders believe humanity shines when we help others. And helping others is what you do by supporting Swim Across America.
Swim Across America has partnered with the American Society of Clinical Oncology and American Association for Cancer Research to award two $60,000 grants to young investigators that represent the next generation of cancer oncologists. ASCO and AACR are the two leading professional organizations that serve the oncology community.
Dr. Chemtai Mungo of UC San Francisco is the recipient of the Conquer Cancer-Swim Across America Young Investigator Award. Dr. Mungo has received a $60,000 grant that will allow her to provide cervical cancer prevention among HIV-positive women. Dr. Mungo describes her personal story, growing up in rural Kenya, as one of inequality that has been a challenge and an inspiration.
Dr. Manisha Jalan of Memorial Sloan Kettering is the recipient of the AACR-Swim Across America Cancer Research Fellowship. Dr. Jalan has received a $60,000 grant to develop a high throughput assay to test if DNA breaks can be repaired using alternative template other than DNA, to ensure genome stability. Genome instability, especially in breast and ovarian cancer, has long been considered the primary driver of most cancer types.
Dr. Mungo and Dr. Jalan will be honored October 15th at the Value Based Cancer Summit. The Summit is a think tank of academic, industry and business leaders committed to improving cancer care while improving access for patients. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, past FDA-Commissioner, is the keynote speaker. Swim Across America is the official charity supported by the Association for Value-Based Cancer Care.
Swim Across America is finding ways to continuing supporting local beneficiaries during this challenging time. Local leadership has been donating meals to selfless healthcare workers at our beneficiary institutions as they continue putting themselves at risk to serve and protect all of us during this crisis. Our unwavering commitment to support our beneficiaries remains, and now more than ever we stand by each of them.
SAA – Houston
MD Anderson Cancer Center
Swim Across America – Houston treated the Pediatric and Brain & Spine Teams at MD Anderson Cancer Center to lunch as a way to express their sincerest appreciation for their service.
SAA – Dallas
Innovative Clinical Trials Center – Baylor Scott & White Health
A big thumbs up from Dr. Becerra after the Swim Across America – Dallas team brought “Taco Tuesday” to the staff of the Swim Across America Innovative Clinical Trials Center at Baylor Scott & White Health.
SAA – San Francisco Bay
UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals
SAA – San Francisco Bay provided their beneficiary and partners UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals with a nutritious breakfast last week to thank them for their continued efforts in supporting the Survivors of Childhood Cancer Program. Thanks to our friends Checkers Catering & Special Events for providing the scrumptious breakfast to these Capeless Heroes!!
SAA – Atlanta
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
Swim Across America – Atlanta had Chick-Fil-A cookies dropped off for the past and present medical staff who have been funded by Swim Across America to show our appreciation for all of their hard work. They returned the love with some fun photos with their cookies.
SAA – Long Island Sound
NY Presbyterian Hospital &
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Swim Across America – Long Island Sound has been busy reaching out to their beneficiaries and scheduling these meal drop-offs. The SAA – LIS team brought breakfast to the nurses at the front line in the Urgent Care Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering. They also provided lunch to the ICU team at NY Presbyterian Hospital.
A huge thank you to all healthcare workers for your courage and unselfish commitment to patients and the communities you serve!
Making Waves with Hope is a series of inspiring messages by leaders in the Swim Across America community during this uncertain time. Matt Vossler is a Founder of Swim Across America as well as a current board member and this is his story.
The secret to non-profits that make an impact is a mission that resonates and volunteers who give their time, talent and resources to the mission. During Volunteer Appreciation Week, it’s gratifying for us to share the story of a volunteer who inspired the Swim Across America movement that has given hope to so many.
Over the past decade, there has been a wave of advancements in cancer detection and cures, such as immunotherapy. These new promises have given hope and the precious gift of time to those battling cancer.
But for the cures to occur, there needs to be funding. And it’s not an exaggeration to say that Matt Vossler’s vision for Swim Across America – to fund cancer research – has directly saved lives.
More than simply saving lives, our world has been made better because of the new treatments to fight cancer. These new treatments aren’t limited by age, gender, ethnicity, geography or even cancer type.
Because of research, children surviving cancer are graduating from school. Because of research, parents surviving cancer are walking their sons and daughters down the aisle. Because of research, grandparents surviving cancer are cherishing more holidays with their families.
Cancer first appeared in Matt’s life when his childhood friend Jeff Keith was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma at 12-years of age. To save Jeff’s life, his leg was amputated. He then underwent 18-months of chemotherapy.
Jeff and Matt finished high school in Connecticut. They both went to Boston College where they were roommates and played college lacrosse. After graduating from BC, Jeff recruited his friends Matt, Hugh Curran, Paul Tortora, Tracy Fitzpatrick and Jeff’s brother David Keith to join him on Jeff Keith’s Run Across America. The friends put their professional lives on hold for a year as they served a greater calling of supporting Jeff’s charity run. The run took 9-months and raised close to $2M for the American Cancer Society. It was documented in this video series.
The charity run completed on February 18, 1985. Jeff stayed in LA to attend graduate school at USC. Matt returned home to Connecticut to work in the family moving business.
Back home, Matt was stirred to do something more. He shared in this NY Times story, “I was thinking of some way to keep the idea alive – something physically challenging to raise money and help people out.” In the 1980s, popularity in triathlons was growing spurred by Julie Moss’s iconic crawl to the finish of the 1982 Hawaii Ironman.
The characteristics of grit and determination it took to complete an Ironman were the same ones Matt thought it would take to complete an open water swim. And so on August 1, 1987, approximately a dozen swimmers and their families boarded two boats at Port Jefferson, NY for what should have been a 17-mile relay swim across Long Island Sound. Why do we use the word “should”? Because one of the boats accidentally sank. The swim finished and the boat is still at the bottom of the sound.
That 1987 charity swim raised around $10,000 which was granted to St. Vincent’s Medical Center to benefit cancer patients. It was a far cry from the nearly $2M that was raised on the charity run.
It would have been reasonable to give up the charity swim idea and go back to charity runs that were less risky and offered more upside. But to Matt, and others at the charity swim, there was a challenge to swimming that had similarities to the challenges cancer patients, and their families, experience.
So undeterred, the friends returned to Port Jefferson in 1988 for the second annual Swim Across the Sound. This time, they had some help from Olympians Craig Beardsley, Rowdy Gaines and Steve Lundquist.
In the 1990s, Matt led the name change from Swim Across the Sound to Swim Across America. The name change was a reflection of the “Making Waves to Fight Cancer” movement that was spreading to new communities with charity swims in Boston, Chicago, New York City and Nantucket.
The name change also signified Swim Across America’s commitment to funding cancer research with an intentional focus on immunotherapy, which in the 90s was considered novel or “quack” medicine.
On March 25, 2011, a revolutionary breakthrough in the way cancer is fought occurred when the FDA approved Ipilimumab (brand name Yervoy), an immunotherapy treatment for patients with melanoma. The Swim Across America Research Lab at Memorial Sloan Kettering was a significant funder of the research and clinical trials that lead to the FDA approval.
On March 25, 2017 another immunotherapy breakthrough occurred when the FDA approved pembrolizumab (brand name KEYTRUDA). The Swim Across America Research Lab at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center was one of the primary grant funders of the research and clinical trials that helped with this FDA approval.
For 2020, Swim Across America is funding $6M to more than 55 cancer research projects at 27 beneficiary hospitals.
Matt Vossler’s vision of charity swims that fund cancer research has become a movement that thousands of volunteers support every year.
Even with these deserved accolades, if you attend the Fairfield County charity swim (20-minutes from where Matt and his wife Pam live), you’ll find Matt leading the water safety team.
At the inaugural Denver charity swim two years ago, Matt was one of the early birds setting up registration and checking in participants and fellow volunteers.
When we host a beneficiary activity, Matt always raises his hand to participate and importantly thank the doctors who he considers to be the heroes in the cancer fight.
Matt is 57-years old. He brings contagious energy to everything he does.
So, this tribute isn’t a retirement. We know that word isn’t in Matt’s vocabulary.
Rather, it’s a heartfelt thank you.
Since 1987, Swim Across America has granted nearly $100 million through 21 annual charity open water swims and over 100 pool swim fundraisers.
There have been many requests for sample messages to use in your fundraising efforts during the uncertainty of the current pandemic. Here are some messages created by Swim Across America staff and leading participants that you can share via email, text message, social media, the SAA fundraising app and other formats.
Every 15 min, 50 Americans are diagnosed with cancer. Even during a pandemic, people continue to hear the terrible words ‘you have cancer’. I have joined the Swim Across America family so that I can continue to give cancer patients hope by raising funds to support cutting edge cancer research. If you are able, please support me and my swim by making a donation to my personal fundraising page. Every bit helps and will make an impact in the fight to find a cure.
Most of us know someone who is dealing with cancer, and how devastating it can be both for the person who is ill and for the family. Cancer touches everyone, and unfortunately during these crazy times, cancer isn’t going into quarantine. That is why I’m STILL making waves to fight cancer with Swim Across America. Since we can’t be together right now, would you instead ‘buy me a drink’ or ‘take me out to dinner’ by making a donation to my Swim Across America swim. The money you give will go toward cutting edge cancer research and make an impact in the fight to find a cure.
The past few weeks have definitely been a challenge for us all, which is why I wanted to send you a quick note to see how you were doing and to share with you on something I am looking forward to. This summer, when we are all hopefully able to come together again, I will be swimming 1 mile in open water with Swim Across America to raise funds to support cancer research. When you have a moment, check out my personal fundraising page to learn more about the event and what the funds will support. I’d love to catch up and hear what you are up to as well. Hopefully you have some fun plans to look forward to later this year too.
I hope you are doing ok in this crazy time. I wanted to reach out to thank you again for supporting my participation in Swim Across America. It really made me smile and feel just a little bit closer during all this isolation. Did you know that you might be able to double your donation by getting a matching gift from your employer? Check with your HR department to see what forms need to be completed or search here to see if your company is eligible for matching gifts. Every bit helps, so thank you for checking with your employer for a match!
I’ve been thinking about you and your family during this difficult time and wanted to reach out to see how you were doing. I’ve signed up to participate and fundraise to support cancer research with Swim Across America this year and they’ve been sharing these inspiring stories about dealing with uncertainty right now that I thought you might enjoy. I hope this brings a little hope to your world right now. I can’t wait until we can get together again soon.
If you have any great messages you think other SAA participants can benefit from using, you can share with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
CARES Act for Nonprofits– On Friday, March 27, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion economic stimulus package legislated to provide immediate relief for nonprofits. You can help give families affected by cancer hope when you make a donation to Swim Across America.
Details About CARES Act
The inclusion of an expanded charitable giving incentive is a critical acknowledgement by Congress that the work of nonprofits like Swim Across America are essential services. Indeed, cancer isn’t taking a break and our mission continues to be critical as we raise funds and provide grants to our world-class beneficiaries. It is the first time Congress has passed this type of giving incentive in response to disaster or national emergency.
Here Are The Highlights
IMPORTANT: New Deduction Available: Up to $300 per tax filing in annual charitable contributions. It is an “above the line” adjustment to income that will reduce a donor’s adjusted gross income (AGI), and thereby reduce taxable income. This is particularly beneficial to people who take the standard deduction when filing their taxes (in other words for taxpayers who do not itemize their deductions). A donation to a donor advised fund (DAF) does not qualify for this new deduction.
New Charitable Deduction Limits: As part of the bill, individuals and corporations that itemize can deduct much greater amounts of their contributions. Individuals can elect to deduct donations up to 100% of their 2020 AGI (up from 60% previously). Corporations may deduct up to 25% of taxable income, up from the previous limit of 10%. The new deduction is for gifts that go to a public charity, such as Swim Across America. The old deduction rules apply to gifts to private foundations. The higher deduction does not apply to donations directly to a DAF.
If your assets are substantial enough that you can give more than your income this year, you won’t lose the deduction for the excess amount. You can use it next year, as has always been the case.
Required Min. Distributions Waived in 2020 for Most Donors:RMD for individuals over age 70 ½ are suspended until 2021. This includes distributions from defined benefit pension plans and 457 plans. The RMD is an attractive way for donors to make a significant charitable gift directly from their IRA to a charity through a qualified charitable contribution (QCD) while avoiding taxable income. The suspension of the RMD may dampen somewhat the incentive for a donor who makes a gift from their IRA to count toward that minimum. However, the tax benefit of the QCD remains.
The takeaway – donors directing a QCD to charity this year (up to $100,000 per individual) will still reduce their taxable IRA balance. This allows all taxpayers, itemizers and non-itemizers alike, to direct gifts from their IRA to charities in a tax efficient manner.
This information is not intended as legal or tax advice. For such advice, please consult an attorney or tax advisor. Figures cited in any examples are for illustrative purposes only. References to tax rates include federal taxes only and are subject to change. State law may further impact your individual results.