35 Stories of Impact: Susan Helmrich of SAA-San Francisco

Susan Helmrich
Swim Across America – San Francisco

16 years with Swim Across America
Age 66; Raised over $1 million across all events with Team Susan Survives!

“I continue to volunteer for Swim Across America as captain of Team Susan Survives! because it is my small way of giving something back to the universe because, for whatever reason, I am one of the lucky ones. In my own small way, I hope to inspire, motivate and encourage others to keep trying and to keep going even when it seems hopeless.”

At the age of 21 Susan Helmrich would hear the words” you have cancer” for the first time when she was diagnosed with vaginal cancer. 24 years later, Susan would be told that the cancer was back and had spread to her lungs. 11 years after that diagnosis, Susan had surgery for neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer. Three times Susan has faced the horrible words of a cancer diagnosis – and three times she has fought back. This year, she will celebrate 13 years cancer-free as a three-time cancer survivor. 

Susan has been an avid swimmer her whole life but Swim Across America provided a new meaning to her love of swimming. “I swim because I can, and because so many others cannot.  I swim because I am one of the lucky ones who has benefitted from extraordinary research and great medical care, which have saved my life each time I had cancer.  I swim because I am so fortunate to have made it through three different cancers, eight major surgeries and way too many hospitalizations to even count, and I have come out the other side.”

Susan partnered with Anthony Ducomb to become the co-event directors for SAA-San Francisco in 2011. The pair worked tirelessly from 2011 to 2020 as event directors to continue to grow the charity swim and raise awareness for the need for funding cancer research in their community. Thanks to their leadership SAA-San Francisco has donated over $5.5 million to support pediatric cancer research at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals.   

Susan has stayed heavily involved with SAA and is the captain of Team Susan Survives!, a top national fundraising team that has raised more than $1 million to support cancer research in San Francisco. “I continue to volunteer for Swim Across America as captain of Team Susan Survives! because it is my small way of giving something back to the universe because, for whatever reason, I am one of the lucky ones. In my own small way, I hope to inspire, motivate and encourage others to keep trying and to keep going even when it seems hopeless.

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 Carolyn of SAA-Nassau/Suffolk

Carolyn Jaenisch, Caitlin Chestler, Gregory Chestler & Steve Chestler
Swim Across America – Nassau/Suffolk

1 year with Swim Across America
Steve 65; Raised over $100,000 with Team Carolyn

We are looking forward to joining a community dedicated to fighting cancer, the disease that took Carolyn Jaenisch from us, while simultaneously doing something she loved : swimming.

Carolyn Jaenisch’s diagnosis of Terminal Adenocarcinoma in July 2021 came as a shock to the entire family. She was an avid swimmer who swam with Long Island masters and Excel Swim Club for the past 21 years on Long Island. When she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer and had her first back operation she was told she would be swimming again in 2 months. Carolyn was all about family and swimming.  

So when her family went looking for a charity event, they saw the SAA-Sound to Cove swim at Pryibil Beach on July 31, 2022, and got in touch with Swim Across America CEO Rob Butcher and local event chair Kevin Shine to learn more and make a plan to participate. Carolyn was so excited to get involved with Swim Across America.

Carolyn sadly passed away in November of 2021, just 4 months after her diagnosis, and before she could witness her family swimming in her honor. Carolyn’s passing left behind her husband, Steven Chestler, 24-year old son Gregory and 19-year old daughter Caitlin; and they are the founders of Team Carolyn for Swim Across America.

This July will be Team Carolyn’s first year participating in a Swim Across America event. “We are looking forward to joining a community dedicated to fighting cancer, the disease that took Carolyn Jaenisch from us, while simultaneously doing something she loved : swimming” says Steve Chestler.  Steve, Caitlin, Gregory and other members of Team Carolyn have rallied together to raise an amazing $100,000 (and counting) to support cancer research and clinical trials. 

“We know she would be honored that she has been supported and loved so much.”

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: Daniel Watters, Jeanne Cunningham & Andrea Dickson of SAA-Dallas

Daniel Watters, Jeanne Cunningham & Andrea Dickson
Swim Across America – Dallas

11 years with Swim Across America

With the help of then SAA President Janel Jorgensen (a teammate of Andrea and Daniel on the 1988 Olympic Team), SAA – Dallas would establish funding for Phase 1 clinical research at the Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center.

Swim Across America – Dallas held its inaugural event on Lake Ray Hubbard in the Spring of 2011, directed by University of Texas Swimming teammates Jeanne (Doolan) Cunningham, Andrea (Hayes) Dickson and Daniel Watters.  Each of the event directors have family histories impacted by cancer and wanted to make a difference in the fight.  Following an incredible adventure where swimmers from Texas and SMU teamed together to raise over $75,000 in the San Francisco swim as Team Tejas, they hoped to replicate the efforts in their home city of Dallas. With the help of then SAA President Janel Jorgensen (a teammate of Andrea and Daniel on the 1988 Olympic Team), SAA – Dallas would establish funding for Phase 1 clinical research at the Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center.  $2.8 million dollars raised later and now funding the Swim Across America Innovative Clinical Trials Center at Baylor, the swim is still going strong under new leadership but still with the grateful support of Jeanne, Andrea, and Daniel. 

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 Rock On of SAA-Baltimore

Hannah, Emma, Samantha and Trevor Rocks
Swim Across America – Baltimore

6 years with Swim Across America
Sammy 33; Emma 31; Hanna 30; Trevor 28; Raised over $300,000 across all events

“Participating in SAA Baltimore honors our mom’s memory in a very personal way. Every year at the swim, we see the faces of people whose lives our fundraising has helped save, and even though we still wish our mom could be one of those faces, it helps us to cope with her loss to know that our swimming is truly making a difference.”

Team Rock On is a rock star in that they have raised more than half a million dollars for crucial cancer research. Tea Rock On was formed in 2016 as a way for the family to honor the memory of Cristy Rock, who sadly passed away in May of 2016 after a two year battle with colorectal cancer. Cristy’s children, Sammy, Emma, Hanna and Trevor, found participating in Swim Across America – Baltimore provided an amazing way to honor their mom, as the beneficiary, Johns Hopkins Hospital, was where Cristy was treated during her cancer battle. “Participating in SAA Baltimore honors our mom’s memory in a very personal way. Every year at the swim, we see the faces of people whose lives our fundraising has helped save, and even though we still wish our mom could be one of those faces, it helps us to cope with her loss to know that our swimming is truly making a difference.”

Now, six years later, Team Rock On continues to swim to honor their mom, their PopPop, who passed away in January after being diagnosed with melanoma in 2020, and many other family members and friends who have been affected by cancer. They have raised an incredible $600,000 for the local beneficiary Johns Hopkins, and they know all too well the importance of the funding and support. “The team at Johns Hopkins helped our mom fight for more time with us and were instrumental in the development of Keytruda, the cancer drug our grandfather received to treat his melanoma. We swim every year to support the work they do every day to help patients and families like ours.”

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: John O’Neill of SAA-Rhode Island

John O’Neill
Swim Across America – Rhode Island

12 years with Swim Across America
Age 62; Raised over $250,000 across all events with Providence College Swimming and Diving Team

“Too many family members and friends have been lost to cancer and we wanted to do something that could help.”

John O’Neill is the head coach of the Providence College Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Teams. John is an incredible coach, leader and example and it is seen through his relationship with his athletes whom he has a wonderful relationship with. John has been the support system for two of his athletes who faced cancer battles – Colleen Lowell (‘97) and senior Kara McCurdy. Both tell a similar story of the incredible support from Coach JO.

John joined the Swim Across America community 12 years ago because he wanted to help. “Too many family members and friends have been lost to cancer and we wanted to do something that could help.” He quickly became part of the Swim Across America – Rhode Island leadership, having great involvement with the unique college teams program. Each year Providence College Swimming and Diving teams participate in the charity swim. The Friars have raised over $250,000 over the years to support cancer research at Women and Infants Hospital Rhode Island. He has also connected with many other college team coaches and encouraged their participation. Thanks to John, over 10 college teams participate annually. “Our RI Swim is unique with so many college participants involved.  We hope that once they graduate and relocate, they stay involved with SAA no matter where their future takes them!”

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 Martha Ries of SAA-Seattle

Team Martha Ries
Swim Across America – Seattle

13 years with Swim Across America
David 65; Raised over $227,000 with Team Martha Ries

We are not the only ones and our resolve to carry on to discover treatments and fight cancer are ever more empowered.”

In 2009, David Day and his wife, Martha got involved with Swim Across America – Seattle by raising funds for cancer research at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, knowing it was for someone else. Sadly, in 2015, their participation became more personal as Martha was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Oddly, the discovery was the result of a shoulder x-ray as she was considering whether surgery was needed to repair her “swimmer’s shoulder.” Martha bravely worked to treat herself with diet, exercise, sleep, two rounds of chemo, surgeries and clinical trials, but sadly passed away in late May 2016. “This was quite devastating and life changing for me, our two children, and all our friends and relatives. We are not the only ones and our resolve to carry on to discover treatments and fight cancer are ever more empowered.” says David. 

David has continued to be a big part of SAA-Seattle as he is co-event director for the swim that has raised over $4.2 million for Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and is captain of Team Martha Ries, that has raised over $227,000 in 12 years. 

David strives to be a leader in the Seattle community and to raise as much money as he can as he knows first hand the importance of furthering cancer research. “In the year of Martha’s treatment, we educated ourselves as much as we could, learning that so much more knowledge is needed to make headway against cancer and in particular pancreas cancer. Knowledge is needed to fight cancer and we know she and many are the beneficiary of all the previous research, but we need more knowledge to advance further.”

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: Denton & Wilson Families of SAA-St. Louis

Denton Family & Wilson Family
Swim Across America – St. Louis

5 years with Swim Across America
Bill 63; Raised over $31,900 across all events
Kathy 48; Walter 52; Raised over $30,500 across all events

“This year, SAA St. Louis will surpass $1,000,000 raised for cancer research at Siteman Cancer Center. We are committed to Swim Across America to provide hope for those impacted by cancer.”

St. Louis Swim Across America event directors each came to the swim in different, yet similar ways. 

In 2016, Kathy and Walter Denton helped start Swim Across America-St. Louis. Five years prior, Walter had swam in the SAA-Dallas event after losing his father to leukemia. Both Kathy and Walter enjoyed the event experience and thought it would be a great idea for someone to bring SAA to St. Louis. After Walter was diagnosed with sarcoma, Kathy’s motivation to turn her thoughts into reality kicked into high gear and she founded the SAA St. Louis event in 2016. Walter’s cancer story includes multiple surgeries, clinical trials, chemotherapy (three different times), radiation, cryoablation, a stem cell transplant, and a recurrence while also battling multiple infections and spending more than 100 days in the hospital. Today, Walter’s disease is stable and he attributes that to his faith, committed doctors, continued swimming, and Keytruda — an immunotherapy drug that was originally funded by SAA.

Bill and Denise Wilson got involved with Swim Across America-St. Louis due to Bill’s love for swimming and his desire to contribute toward this important cause. But the cause became much more personal two years later, when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma. “All of a sudden, I was being treated at Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis, our beneficiary, and I myself became a beneficiary of the research SAA supports, undergoing treatment with an immunotherapy drug developed with help from seed money raised by SAA.”  

The two couples have become a powerhouse leading Swim Across America – St. Louis. Both families have seen first hand the importance of Swim Across America as both Bill and Walter were treated with Keytruda, an SAA funded immunotherapy drug. Both families have spent time at the beneficiary, Siteman Cancer Institute and know the great work being done there.

“This year, SAA St. Louis will surpass $1,000,000 raised for cancer research at Siteman Cancer Center. We are committed to Swim Across America to provide hope for those impacted by cancer.”

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 Kennedy of SAA-Chicago

Team Kennedy
Swim Across America – Chicago

34 years with Swim Across America
Mary 58; Raised over $163,000 with Team Kennedy

“Mark and I, along with our families, friends, fellow BC teammates have enjoyed watching SAA evolve and grow over the last thirty years. It is a perfect venture, a place where our shared passion for swimming and the unique mission of Swim Across America merged and most importantly, through it all, we continue to give hope to people who have been touched by cancer.”

In 1988, Mark and Mary McCullagh, both Boston College ’85 swim alums, participated in SAA’s second-ever Swim Across the Sound. They had been introduced to Swim Across America through their Boston College friends and connections. Moved by the event, Mary and Mark decided to spread the mission to Nantucket and started the Nantucket Sound Swim in 1992. Mary later became more involved as she accepted the role of executive director for Swim Across America.

During her time as ED, Mary had strong ties to the Chicago community as most of her family lived in the area. She knew it would be the perfect place for the next SAA swim. The inaugural SAA-Chicago swim took place in September of 1994 with Mary’s family, Team Kennedy, being the majority of participants. 

Mary and Mark continued their involvement with the Chicago, Boston and NY-area swims while David Kennedy took the lead in Chicago — recruiting locals and maintaining city support from his job in the Mayor’s Special Events department. David, along with Mary’s other brothers Patrick and Tim Kennedy and her cousin Tom Kennedy, continue to recruit family and friends each year even today.

SAA-Chicago is now a yearly tradition for Team Kennedy. They have a family dinner each year the night before the swim to celebrate being together, their love for one another and coming together to make a difference. With over 30 team members each year, Team Kennedy continues to be a strong presence and foundation for the Chicago swim. They have raised over $160,000 to fund cancer research and clinical trials in the Chicago community. 

Mary took a few years off to raise three children, but has since returned to the SAA national staff, facilitating logistics and operational support for all the swims.  She and Mark now live near the shores of Lake Michigan in NW Indiana.  On a clear day, they can see the Chicago skyline and the venue for one of SAA’s oldest swims.

“Mark and I, along with our families, friends, fellow BC teammates have enjoyed watching SAA evolve and grow over the last thirty years. It is a perfect venture, a place where our shared passion for swimming and the unique mission of Swim Across America merged and most importantly, through it all, we continue to give hope to people who have been touched by cancer” says Mary.

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: Kitty Tetreault of SAA-Boston

Kitty Tetreault
Swim Across America – Boston

30+ years with Swim Across America

“Swimming has been my salvation and peace during treatment (and in life) and as long as cancer is out there I will continue to raise money for research and treatment of cancer.”

Kathleen Tetreault or Kitty as those close to her call her, has devoted much of her life to Swim Across America. For over 30 years Kitty has been leading, fundraising and making a difference in the fight against cancer. She originally got involved due to her love of swimming. “I love swimming and I thought why not combine a job with something you love. I met a great group of people who have become family to me and I was doing something that had a purpose and making a difference.” Kitty was the SAA-Boston event director for over two decades helping to raise millions of dollars for cancer research and clinical trials. 

Kitty’s motivation for her involvement with SAA became even more urgent when she herself was diagnosed with cancer. “Cancer had not touched me personally when I began my journey with SAA. Over the years I knew more and more people who had been diagnosed with cancer and then one day it was me. In some ways I was not surprised. Why not me? Cancer can strike anyone at any time and it was my time.” Kitty found comfort in the fact that Swim Across America Boston supports two great beneficiaries, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Mass General Hospital for Children Cancer Center, and knew she would receive great care in her Boston community. Kitty embraced swimming event more to help her cope during her cancer diagnosis and treatment.

“Swimming has been my salvation and peace during treatment (and in life) and as long as cancer is out there I will continue to raise money for research and treatment of cancer.”

Kitty has been cancer free since 2016. She continues to help out with the SAA-Boston swim and is a National Safety Director for numerous other SAA swims.

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: The 1992 Inaugural SAA-Long Island Sound

Frank Webers, Tony Sibio, Jean Fufidio & the Glantz Brothers
Swim Across America – Long Island Sound

30 years with Swim Across America

SAA-LIS’s goal is to prevent future generations from ever being afflicted with this menacing disease.”

The Long Island Sound Swim started in Larchmont, New York in 1992 at the Larchmont Yacht Club with a 4-mile swim, 17 swimmers and $15K raised.  It was, and still is, dedicated to the memory of Kathy Webers, who courageously battled cancer for over a year. The core group that started – and continue to lead the swim – Frank Webers, Tony Sibio, Jean Fufidio and Josh and Jeremy Glantz, have all had loved ones directly impacted by cancer and are committed to making a difference in the fight against cancer. “SAA-LIS’s goal is to prevent future generations from ever being afflicted with this menacing disease.”

Frank Webers and his wife Kathy had three daughters – April, May and June. The family was heartbroken by the loss of Kathy to cancer at only 42 years old. Her passing led to the start of the SAA-LIS being established with 17 inaugural swimmers swimming in her honor. Sadly, while cancer skipped a generation, June’s daughter, Jane, was diagnosed with leukemia at just six years old. Jane raised money for SAA-LIS by selling lemonade, and in 2019, her Mom June swam in her honor. The family was comforted in knowing that many of the funds raised through SAA-LIS were going directly to Memorial Sloan Kettering, where Jane was treated. Thankfully, Jane, now nine, is a thriving fourth grader free of cancer.

Tony Sibio, chairman of SAA-LIS, has been involved in the organization since its inception in 1992. His son, Daniel, was diagnosed in 1991 with stage 4 Rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of soft tissue, connective tissue or bone. His tumor was inoperable and spread to both lungs. Daniel, who was only eight-and-a-half years old at the time, was treated at New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital where today, SAA-LIS supports cutting-edge research. Thanks to an experimental protocol, Daniel has been in remission for 31 years and is happily married with two beautiful daughters. 

Jean Fufidio got involved with Swim Across America after her daughters, Andrea, Michele and Maria pushed their mom, a non swimmer, to take swimming lessons so she could participate in SAA-LIS after their father, George was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2001, the same cancer that had taken his father-in-law. Deeply affected by their father’s illness, George’s daughters, Maria, Michele and Andrea, were determined to make a difference for those with cancer and became involved in SAA-LIS, swimming to raise money for cancer research. SAA-LIS became a family affair with Jean, George, Andrea, Michele and Maria continuing to participate and support something so dear to them. Today Jean is an active SAA-LIS board member, and she continues to swim each year at the NYAC in Pelham to raise funds. George survived his cancer and is a volunteer in the organization.

Jeremy and Josh Glanz coached the swim team at Larchmont Yacht Club for four years.  Kathy and Frank Webers and their daughters, April, May, and June, were always so incredibly kind and supportive of them. Josh and Jeremy were heartbroken when Kathy passed away and wanted to do something in her honor so they decided to bring together a few friends to swim across the Sound in Kathy’s memory. They thought it would be a one-time thing, but Frank had other ideas.  As they gathered at the Yacht Club after finishing that first swim, Frank gave them a big hug and said, “Next year we are going to do it again but BIGGER!”

This year, Swim Across America-Long Island Sound will celebrate it’s 30th anniversary; 30 years of making an impact and millions raised to further cancer research and clinical trials.

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.