Saving Lives at the Johns Hopkins Swim Across America Lab

Stefanie Joho joined SAA – Baltimore this year to share her uplifting story. Four years ago at 22-years old she was diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer. Stefanie went through repeated chemo with no positive response, and the cancer spread to stage 4. Her doctors gave her weeks to live. Desperate and not willing to give up, her sister googles and finds Dr. Luis Diaz at our beneficiary Johns Hopkins Medicine.

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Dr. Diaz told Joho to come immediately to JHU where she participates in an immunotherapy clinical trial of Keytruda funded–yes funded–by your donations to Swim Across America. The trial saved her life (she has “no evidence of disease NED”), she has a bright future and Keytruda is now FDA approved. Read Stefanie’s story in the New York Times and if you are inspired by the work being done through Swim Across America labs, please consider donating to SAA: http://bit.ly/SAAdonation.

Genetic tests for mismatch repair deficiency are commercially available. But insurers might not pay for the drugs — Keytruda and Opdivo cost $150,000 a year — based on such a small study. The study was paid for by Swim Across America and other charities, and the National Institutes of Health.  – New York Times

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How Far Have We Come?

SAA By the Numbers

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Shake off the ice and snow- spring is officially upon us and we’ve awoken from the deep freeze! To get everyone back in gear and excited for this year’s schedule of open water events (starting May 4th in Atlanta!!) we figured we’d run some numbers. Haven’t you ever wondered just how far we actually have swum across America at this point?! Let’s find out!!

We went a looooooong way in 2013…
The mileage our swimmers have covered in open-water events alone is impressive. In 2013, we collectively swam 5447.5 miles in open-water events, meaning last year, we swam across America about 1.82 times!

We have swam back and forth a few times…
Unimpressed so far? Not for long! Since our inception, assuming all of our swimmers each swam an average of 1 mile each, we’ve swum across America about 10 times. Yes- 10 times across the country since our first open-water swim!

We’re making an impact…
While the miles we’ve covered alone are cause for celebration, the funds we’ve raised for cancer research deserves its own look. The amount we’ve raised since our first swim is over $50 million, which equals over 2,501,250 pairs of Speedo Vanquisher goggles, 1,001,001 women’s swimsuits or 156,274 pool lane lines.

It’s all thanks to you…
And get this: we’ve had about 30,000 swimmers in our open-water events since our beginning. If we assume equal numbers of American men and women with average wingspans of both genders, this means that holding hands, our Swim Across America family would stretch about 31.84 miles long!

Let’s do it again!
How many times will we make it across America this season? You can help us beat last year’s collective distance and add to our Swim Across America family by registering for a 2014 swim!

If an SAA Event Could Talk…

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Each of our events has their own unique “voice.” But there are some commonalities across all of them and we think this is what your average one would sound like…

SOMEONE GET ME A COFFEE.

I love you guys, but I won’t be functioning without coffee at this hour.

Dash of cream. One sugar. Thank goodness for caffeine!

OOOOOKay. So. Picnic tables, banners, shells and sharpies, breakfast, Balance Bars, signs in the sand, buoys, caps, registration forms, towels, clipboards, Chobanis, wetsuits, waivers, kayaks, DJ, t-shirts, flags to the start, I have to be forgetting something…

If you ask me, setup is something I almost wish our participants could all be a part of as well. It’s pitch black, and all these people are volunteering their time to lug bins full of swag and supplies onto the beach. It’s camaraderie between strangers that starts before the sun rises, and it’s what sets the tone for the rest of the event. The only pall on these amazing mornings is what’s uniting everyone.

But that’s another great thing, though. People who come to me? They know why they’re here. Cancer isn’t simply something we remember on event day- it’s ever-present. And look at how many smiles, smiles there are here. My participants are powerful in the presence of the ever-present, and that’s why there’s a day on the horizon in which we won’t have to smile in spite of it anymore. That’s what I’m here working towards.

Oh. My. Goodness. There is an eight year old child here that is determined to swim the half mile alongside her mother.

Excuse me while I tear up behind the DJ’s speakers.

Speaking of which, DJ, can I request a song? A little vintage “Eye of the Tiger” might be in order to get this party bumpin’ by 8am. (But no Black Eyed Peas- so 2000 and late.)

Once things get rolling here, I love that they kind of don’t slow down. My favorite part of my swim is when participants run out of the water under my arches. It’s the culmination of a morning, but also the culmination of months of preparation from both staff and participants alike. Swimmers that were previously strangers share high fives and become family. You’d be hard pressed to find anything other than a smile on every face on that beach. Under those arches, we find the core of SAA: family, hard work and positivity, all on the road to a cure.

Okay people, time for the group picture. Look at everybody in their new shirts, lookin’ so flyyyy! Squeeze together, people, squeeze! We’re all in this together!

(Were truer words ever spoke?)

@SAASwimmerProblems

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It’s happened to all of us… our cap rips, our goggles break, we can’t seem to escape the smell of chlorine… It’s what we call “swimmer problems.” We’ve taken it a step further and thought about some fun “SAA swimmer problems” and here’s what we came up with!

-forgot my bodyglide #chaffing

-no warmdown in the open water #SAAsolutions

-crushin’ on your angel swimmer #mouthtomouthplease

-wetsuit only took 2 minutes to put on #winning

-fainted when Phelps looked my way #baltimoreSAAproblems

-up before the sun rises on event day #thoughtiwasdonewiththis #coffeeplease

-i hate flip turns anyways #openwaterproblems

-dj is playing my jam #its10am #bostonharborpartyboat

-watched jaws last night #worstideaever

-first open water swim, last time i’ll forget my goggles #rookiestatus

#nowallznoproblemz
-raccoon eyes in my pic with an Olympian #lookinfine
-swam by a sea turtle #canigetaride? #SAAtampabay
-2 mile swim means i can eat this whole pizza, right? #notsorry
Comment and leave your own versions of #saaswimmerproblems

Twin Swims

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For the past couple years, Swim Across America has hosted two late summer swims on the same day- at opposite ends of the country! The Rhode Island and Seattle open water events are twin swims, and like any set, they’ve got a lot in common but also have distinct personalities. Since we’re not ones for sibling rivalry, we decided to spotlight both swims to connect our SAA family across the continent!

Rhode Island: East Coast

Over on the Atlantic side, the smallest state in the union hosts one heck of a swim. Rhode Island’s SAA swim is marked by a mix of intense energy and intimacy, and is a blast to participate in.

Walk onto the beach as the sun rises, and our DJ will be playing “Party Rock Anthem.” The Narragansett venue attracts the most college swimmers at an SAA event in the country, so most of our top fundraisers in the Ocean State are still students. (As of this posting, Providence College has been holding steady as the top team fundraiser with over $14,000!)

Not to be outdone by the youthful exuberance of the college kids, local Rhode Islanders have been incredibly dedicated to SAA. The family is small- watch for how many locals chat up RI-born-and-bred Olympian Clara Walker- and everyone knows someone who’s been treated at beneficiary Women and Infants, making this swim a very personal one.

With both a half-mile and full mile distance, swimmers can choose their challenge at Roger Wheeler State Beach. Rhode Islanders commonly describe themselves as small but strong, but there’s nothing little about the life and heart emerging from the Narragansett waters as SAA swimmers run up on the beach!

Seattle: West Coast

Out West, Seattle starts the summer sendoff in style with their swim off Mercer Island in Lake Washington. Always prepared to innovate, Seattle is one of the first cities in the SAA family to host a BREAKOWT clinic, which is run in conjunction with the Michael Phelps Swim School and preps swimmers for open water events.

The Mercer Island swim has got something for everyone with a 50-meter kids’ splash, ½ mile and 2 mile swim. The entire family has almost no excuse to stay out of the water, and it seems that they won’t! SAA Seattle is hosting 37 (yes, 37!) tribute teams this year, so Lake Washington will be teeming with powerhouse teams!

The most unique aspect of Seattle’s event is that it’s the only one in the nation that has a corporate matching system. Through the McAdams Wright Ragen Matching Program, a bonus will be donated in the name of the top ten teams if they raise a combined $120,000. It’s a generous and original program that proves that SAA Seattle leads the way in shaping unique events.

Benefitting the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, this West Coast swim’s goal is to raise three times as much as its twin swim, but that hardly takes away from the family-reunion feel of the event. Pancakes on the beach attract the likes of Olympians Ariana Kukors, Jeff Float, Dana Kirk, and Rick Colella, to name a few. That familial spirit hangs on the beach with the “why I swim” flags in Seattle, and considering the innovation that has come to define SAA Seattle, it makes for a vibrant event full of surprises and above all, life.

Two oceans. Two events. One cause. Like any set of twins, our swims in Seattle and Rhode Island are connected in spirit, and serve to connect all who’ve been touched by cancer. We’ll see you on the beach- you choose the coast!