Making Waves with Hope: “Uncertainty and Adversity” with Craig Beardsley and Rowdy Gaines

Hope Header2Making Waves with Hope is a series of inspiring messages by leaders in the Swim Across America community. Olympians Rowdy Gaines and Craig Beardsley had earned their spots on the 1980 USA Olympic Team when uncertainty struck. The US boycotted the 1980 Olympics and in an instant, the dreams of both—and hundreds of others—were washed away. Fast forward three decades to the postponement of the 2020 Olympics. Rowdy and Craig offer their wisdom to dealing with uncertain moments. Rowdy and Craig were guests on “Pitch The Rhino” podcast. Give it a listen here: bit.ly/PTRPodcastCR.

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Craig Beardsley on Recovering From What You Can’t Control:

“One of the things that I learned from what happened in 1980, and this is a life lesson for me, was that I did everything I was supposed to do getting ready for ‘80, and then things changed. And I learned that sometimes you can do everything you’re supposed to do but sometimes things are just out of your control. That happens in life. And when that happens you have to just learn how to recover from that and move forward.”

Rowdy Gaines on Current Athletes Finding Motivation Despite Postponements:  

“The most important thing is our health and wellbeing. So, these decisions that came down were the right decisions, it doesn’t make it any easier. It’s just like in 1980, at the time I felt like, ‘Okay I’m going to support my country’ and it felt like the boycott was the best way to answer the Russians that had invaded Afghanistan, but I didn’t like it. It still was devastating. It still hurt me. And I think that it’s okay to be vulnerable right now. I think it’s okay for these athletes to feel anger, the emotions of going through denial first, and then anger, and then sadness and depression, and then acceptance. And sooner or later you’re going to have that acceptance and be able to move on. And it will make you stronger, it will, I guarantee you at the very best it will make them stronger, because in the end, after acceptance for me, was motivation.”

Craig Beardsley on Being Your Best and Obstacles:

When they announced the boycott, I wasn’t the world record holder at the time, I still had something to prove to myself more than anybody else that I could be the best. So I didn’t allow that to derail me as much as maybe some of the other people. I just felt compelled that I still had to prove something, to everybody and myself that I could be the best, and that I trained for that, and I wasn’t going to let anything get in my way of being the best at this point.”

Craig Beardsley’s Advice on Training and Focus:

“Something that I learned directly from experience is if you’re training and all you’re doing is training, try to have something else in your life that you can focus on. And not just fun stuff, but something that you actually have to focus on that you can remove yourself from the sport because it will help you and it will give you room to breathe, and you’ll look at the sport with fresh eyes instead of getting burned out by it.”

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BIOS

Craig Beardsley was heavily favored to win the 200m butterfly as a member of the 1980 Olympic Team, only to be forced from competition when politics intervened, and the US boycotted Moscow’s Summer Games. Between 1980 and 1983, Craig held both the World and the American Records in the 200m butterfly, and he won Gold at the Pan American Games in both 1979 and 1983. A nine-time US National Champion, Craig captured another Gold in the same event at the NCAA Championships while an All-American at the University of Florida. Beardsley is currently the Swim Across America Director of Partnerships. 

“Rowdy” Gaines  held 11 World Records during a four-year span in the 1980s. At the age of 25, Gaines won three Gold Medals in the 1984 Games in L.A., including the 100m free in which he set a new Olympic Record, .45 seconds shy of his own World Record. Rowdy also swam on the Gold-Medal winning 400m free and 400m medley relays, both which set World Records. In 1984, he was named World Swimmer of the Year. During his education at Auburn, Rowdy was a five-time NCAA All-American and honored as the Southeastern Conference Athlete of the Year. In 1996, Gaines became NBC’s Olympic Games Swimming Commentator, filling that role in all Olympics and major competitions since. Gaines has also been an Olympic Ambassador from Swim Across America since our organization’s inaugural swim in 1987.

MAKING WAVES WITH HOPE: HOW MATT VOSSLER INSPIRED A MOVEMENT

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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.

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Matt at SAA–Fairfield County overseeing safety.

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.

UNSELFISH

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Jeff Keith, Matt Vossler, Hugh Curran running into LA in 1985.

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.

VISION

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.

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Matt’s drawing of the 1987 logo.

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.

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The newspaper headline from the first swim across the sound.

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.

VISIONARY

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.

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Matt and Craig Beardsley at SAA-Boston.

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.

Servant Leader

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Matt with Dr. Sam Katz and SAA–Fairfield County event directors Michele Graham and Lorrie Lorenz

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.

Speedo USA and Swim Across America Donating Goggles

Speedo USA and Swim Across America have teamed up to donate 2,000 goggles to Swim Across America hospital beneficiaries. The goggles are offered as protective eyewear to hospital medical staff.Screen Shot 2020-04-06 at 1.03.35 PM

“Our hospital partners shared a need for protective eyewear so we reached out to Speedo USA to see if they might be able to help,” commented Rob Butcher, Swim Across America CEO.

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Swim Across America-Dallas team captain Alan Wright of Baylor Oncology shows off his SAA spirit.

“Many of Speedo’s athletes support Swim Across America so when we were approached with the need and that we could help, we were delighted to do so,” shared Andy Long, CEO of Pentland Brands.

Swim Across America hosts charity swims with the proceeds funding cancer research. If you feel inspired, you may donate to Swim Across America through this link.

Swim Across America Awards a Record $6 Million in Grants to Fight Cancer for 2020

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In 1987, an inaugural charity swim was hosted across Long Island Sound that raised $5,000 for cancer research. Since then, Swim Across America charity swims have granted nearly $100M that has funded innovative cancer research and clinical trials. Swim Across America grants have played a major role in the development of immunotherapy, detection, gene therapy and personalized medicine. The impact is that families who hear “you have cancer” are more than ever hearing “there is hope.”

In 2020, Swim Across America will be awarding a record $6 million in cancer research grants that will fund more than 50 projects and programs at the following beneficiaries: Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy (Connecticut), Baylor Scott & White Sammons Cancer Center (Dallas), Cancer Support Team (Westchester, NY), RUSH University Medical Center (Chicago), Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (New York), Columbia University Medical Center (New York), Dana- Farber Cancer Institute (Boston), Feinstein Institute for Medical Research (New York), Medical University of South Carolina Hollings Cancer Center (Charleston), Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center (Baltimore), Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital (Tampa), Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute (Charlotte), MassGeneral Hospital for Children (Boston), MD Anderson Cancer Center (Houston), Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (New York), Moffitt Cancer Center (Tampa), Nantucket Cottage Hospital, Palliative and Support Care of Nantucket, Siteman Cancer Center (St. Louis), Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, UC Benioff Children’s Hospitals (San Francisco and Oakland), Children’s Hospital Colorado (Denver), University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center (Detroit), VCU Massey Cancer Center (Richmond) and Women and Infants Hospital (Rhode Island).

In addition to these grants that are being funded by Swim Across America charity swims within their community, Swim Across America is awarding $110,000 in grants to the Conquer Cancer Foundation (American Society of Clinical Oncology—ASCO) and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) that will fund young investigators who have promising ideas to fight cancer.

For more information, please visit swimacrossamerica.org

SWIM ACROSS AMERICA FAMILY TREE (OCTOBER 2019)

SAA Family Tree is a monthly focus on stories that display the impact all the members of the Swim Across America family have both locally and nationally. If you have a story or link you’d like to share, please send here.

 

Swim Across America

Learn how to Swim to Save a Life. This Charity Raised Nearly $100 million to Directly Fund Therapies to Defeat Cancer. A Conversation with Swim Across America’s Rob Butcher and Board Chair Pam Ryan from Goldman Sachs

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SAA – Richmond

  • SAA-Richmond Event Director Jay Peluso and Dr. Santiago Lima of VCU Massey Cancer Center promoted the swim on WTVR

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SAA – Atlanta

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SAA – Denver

  • Swim Across America CEO Rob Butcher and Team Captain Patty Waldron appeared on FOX 46

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SAA – San Francisco Bay

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SAA – Baltimore

  • With yearly swim, Mt. Hebron High junior raises money for cancer research at Magothy River event (Baltimore Sun)

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  • Dr. Jonathan Webster of Johns Hopkins and Patient Ambassador Vanessa Brandon promoted Swim Across America on Midday Maryland

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SAA – Dallas

  • North Texas Swimmers Raise Money for Local Cancer Research (NBC DFW)Screen Shot 2019-10-30 at 10.23.08 AM

 

  • Lake Ray Hubbard swim event helps raise money for cancer research (FOX 4 DFW)

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SAA – St. Louis

  • Swim Across America CEO Rob Butcher and champion swimmer Mallory Comerford promoted the upcoming swim on FOX 2!

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SAA – Catalina Relay Team

  • The six relay swimmers representing SAA crushed their 54-mile relay swim this September! It only took them 28 hours and they are now the 11th team EVER to complete this swim around Catalina Island! Not to mention they have raised over $60,000!

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SAA – Rhode Island

  • A Special Message on behalf of SAA -Rhode Island from Olympian Elizabeth Beisel and Providence College Coach John O’Neill

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SAA FAMILY TREE (JULY 2019)

SAA Family Tree is a monthly focus on stories that display the impact all the members of the Swim Across America family have both locally and nationally. If you have a story or link you’d like to share, please send here.

 

SAA – Baltimore

SAA – Denver

SAA – Boston

SAA – Nantucket

  • Celebrate Our Impact event at Nantucket Cottage Hospital

    SAA – Fairfield County

    • Greenwich shows support for Swim Across America Fairfield County (Greenwich Time)

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SAA FAMILY TREE (MAY 2019)

SAA Family Tree is a monthly focus on stories that display the impact all the members of the Swim Across America family have both locally and nationally. If you have a story or link you’d like to share, please send here.

 

SAA – Baltimore

SAA – St. Louis

SAA – Houston

SAA – Atlanta