‘WaveMakers’ Docu-Series about Swim Across America Premieres July 8 to Share Stories of Hope in the Fight Against Cancer

Grammy Award-Winner John Driskell Hopkins of the Zac Brown Band Contributes Theme Song ‘I’ll Take You Home’  and Provides Narration for ‘WaveMakers’

CHARLOTTE, July 1, 2021 — Every 15 minutes, 50 Americans are diagnosed with cancer. That’s close to 1.9 million new cases of cancer diagnosed just this year with an estimated 600,000 cancer deaths. But those statistics don’t tell the whole story. Within someone’s cancer journey, there are remarkable stories. Stories of triumph, stories of courage, stories of pioneers and stories of heartbreak that inspire.

WaveMakers is a new docu-series about Swim Across America, produced by Browning Production & Entertainment, and airing on the Discovery Life Network beginning July 8 at 8:00 p.m. (EST). It is a six-episode series that shares the stories of patients, survivors, family members, oncologists, swimmers, volunteers and Olympians who are all striving to make waves in the fight against cancer.  

“WaveMakers showcases the Swim Across America community that is changing the face of cancer,” noted Rob Butcher, CEO of Swim Across America. “Our grants have led to breakthrough treatments such as immunotherapy that are saving lives. WaveMakers is a beautiful showcase of stories, and how the disease changes lives. We hope that viewers will be inspired and in watching WaveMakers know that there is hope.”

Grammy Award-winning Zac Brown Band-member John Driskell Hopkins wrote the theme song “I’ll Take you Home” for WaveMakers and provides the voice-over for the six episodes.

“I wrote ‘I’ll Take You Home’ to honor our family friend Grace Bunke, who sadly lost her life to osteosarcoma, and inspire her mother Vicki who is carrying on Grace’s legacy through Swim Across America to help others,” said John Driskell Hopkins. “I’m honored to be part of the story that brings a message of hope to so many.” 

WaveMakers six-part docu-series will air for six weeks on Discovery Life Network. The first episode will air July 8 at 8 p.m., (EST). The trailer and broadcast schedule with show titles are available at wavemakers.tv.

Episode 1: July 8th; A 14-year old with osteosarcoma patient inspires a movement

Episode 2: July 15th; A mom honors her daughter’s legacy

Episode 3: July 22; Olympians and survivors inspiring each other

Episode 4: July 29; Why is it so hard to cure cancer?

Episode 5: August 5; When will cancer finally be cured?

Episode 6: August 12; A family overcomes heartbreak to find purpose with Swim Across America

Media Inquiries: Jenifer Howard | 203-273-4246 jhoward@jhowardpr.com

About Swim Across America: Swim Across America (SAA) is dedicated to raising money and awareness for cancer research, prevention and treatment through swimming-related charity events. Founded in 1987, Swim Across America has granted more than $100 million that has funded cancer research and clinical trials. With the help of volunteers nationwide and Olympians, Swim Across America grants have been at the forefront of leading to new treatments in immunotherapy and gene therapy. To learn more visit swimacrossamerica.org or follow on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

New Swim Across America Participant Center is Live

Swim Across America now features a new Participant Center created to make fundraising easier for all participants, whether you are a swimmer, volunteer or SAA My Way participant. Get registered at swimacrossamerica.org and check out these new features when you are logged in:

  • The Participant Center has a new design as well as mobile-responsive functionality
  • The new email interface simplifies email sending while maintaining your organizational styles with suggested message templates. Participants will never lose their work again thanks to the new “autosave” of draft messages in the email editor!
  • PC3’s new “Profile View” allows supporters to do more “self service” updates –they can edit their own profile (constituent record), privacy preferences, and change their password–all within the Participant Center. Participants also have the power to join a team after registration.
  • The photo upload tool now includes a preview option that automatically zooms to the required 300×400 dimensions and allows the participant to zoom or rotate the photo.
  • SAA My Way participants will be able to use the Activity Tracker and upload inspiring photos of their progress

If you have questions about the new Participant Center – you can consult our Support Page with Frequently Asked Questions about the Center.

SAA Debuts WaveMaker YETI Tumbler for 2021

Swim Across America is excited to celebrate our return to live events in 2021 with a Swim Across America WaveMaker gift of a 20 oz. YETI Tumbler with lid for participants and volunteers that raise $1,000 or more!

As part of the WaveMaker club, we want you to show your SAA pride year-round with a tumbler perfect for any weather. The YETI Rambler® 20 oz. is made from durable stainless steel with double-wall vacuum insulation to protect your hot or cold beverage at all costs. Like the entire Rambler Family, the 20 oz. Tumbler and its lid are dishwasher-safe for easy cleaning. While the magnet on the included MagSlider™ Lid adds an additional barrier of protection for keeping drinks contained and preventing heat or cold from escapingWant to take these awesome items home with you? Register today and set your fundraising goal to WaveMaker!

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Swim Across America Honors Teams in Times Square with Clear Channel Outdoor


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We appreciate the teams that have given so much heart and soul to supporting the Swim Across America cause that we are using our public service message with Clear Channel Outdoor to recognize them in Times Square. Thank you. Thank you. 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 1-minute ad ran in February 2021. 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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Will You Reach WaveMaker Status in 2021?

Swim Across America is excited to celebrate 35 years of impact and we want to see you hit WaveMaker status in 2021. WaveMakers commit to hitting a higher fundraising goal and bring that same energy to SAA events!

As part of the WaveMaker club, we want you to show your SAA pride year-round.  Register today and set your fundraising goal to WaveMaker!

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2020 Swim Across America Highlights: Douglas Whitlock Bicycles from Chicago to St. Louis

This year, when Swim Across America pivoted from open water swims to virtual challenges, people have been finding all kinds of fun and creative ways to support Swim Across America and cancer research in their community. We’re highlighting some of the best ‘Making Waves to Fight Cancer’ stories with Swim Across America in 2020!

Douglas Whitlock, Swim Across America – St. Louis participant and partner at Sandberg Phoenix, one of SAA-St. Louis’s official sponsors, took his SAA -Coast to Coast Challenge to whole new level by bicycling from Grant Park in Chicago all the way to The Gateway Arch in St. Louis – a bike ride that is over 300 miles! Not only did he complete the journey, he and his team raised over $13,000 for groundbreaking cancer research and clinical trials at Siteman Cancer Center along the way! Congratulations to Doug for finishing such a challenging journey and for inspiring us all.

Dynamic Father-Daughter Duo Swims Lake Tahoe for Cancer Research

This year, when Swim Across America pivoted from open water swims to virtual challenges, people have been finding all kinds of fun and creative ways to support Swim Across America and cancer research in their community. We’re highlighting some of the best ‘Making Waves to Fight Cancer’ stories with Swim Across America in 2020!

13-year old Swim Across America – San Francisco Junior Advisory Board member and Team Susan Survives participant Maya Merhige and her father, Chris Merhige set their sights on a big goal for their participation in the San Francisco #SAACoasttoCoast Challenge in order to raise funds for UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals! For their personal challenge this year, the dynamic father-daughter duo committed to swimming the true width of Lake Tahoe. For those of you that don’t know – that’s a 12-MILE swim!

True Width of Lake Tahoe 12-Mile Swim

The pair has raised over $5,700 to support cancer research and clinical trials at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals Oakland and San Francisco! We got the chance to catch up with them afterwards and ask them all about their Lake Tahoe swim experience – you can read about it and see some photos below!

What brought you to get involved with Swim Across America? (Maya) I have been swimming with one of the director’s of SAA-SF, Susan Helmrich, for about 6 years, and she introduced me to Swim Across America. Swim Across America is actually what led me to start open-water swimming in the San Francisco Bay. In 2017 and 2018, I did the short course swim with my mom and dad, and then in 2019 we all did the long course swim without wetsuits. Over these past three years, I have reached Wavemaker status, having raised over $10K in total.  Last year, I became part of the SAA-SF Junior Advisory Board. I know a lot of people that have been affected by cancer, and I have always been interested in both swimming and medicine so I was super interested in Swim Across America from the start. 

(Chris) I met Susan Helmrich in 2014 and first did SAA in 2016.  From the first day I swam with Susan she kicked my butt in the pool.  I learned about her experience with cancer and involvement with SAA a few months after meeting her and I was blown away.  Like almost everyone, I have known people who have been affected by cancer and I was amazed by Susan’s amazing spirit and resilience, even after beating cancer three times.  She invited me to join Team Susan Survives and since then the San Francisco Bay SAA has been a highlight every year.  While the swim itself is great, I find it so powerful to hear all the incredible stories from cancer survivors and folks affected by cancer in some form.  I am glad I can do something personally to contribute to the fight against cancer.

Why did you choose the Lake Tahoe swim as your personal challenge?
(Maya) My Dad and I had been talking about us both attempting a Tahoe True Width since last year.  We have spent a lot of time in Tahoe in the winters and summers, and it holds a special place in my heart.  It has always been this magical place for me.  We began training in the San Francisco Bay in March in preparation for our August swim.  When Covid hit and the Swim Across America challenge became virtual, we knew we needed to make our Tahoe swim the SAA challenge.  

What was your experience like participating in and completing that swim? (Maya) It was really amazing!  It was the most beautiful swim, starting with a 4am start with a full moon and beautiful stars above me.  Sunrise was glorious – and swimming in the clear water under the beautiful blue sky and bold clouds was incredible.  The best part was that I was expecting it to take me over 8 hours to complete the course, but I did it in 6 hours and 21 minutes!  There were hard moments where I felt I had to dig deep, but I just kept telling myself that they were nothing compared to the struggle cancer patients face.  I love the lake so much that I was back swimming and paddle boarding in it that afternoon.  

(Chris) I went two days after Maya.  At first I thought it would advantage me to go a couple days later, and in some ways it did.  I benefited by getting a feel for the feedings, the conditions, etc.  I also got to see how supported Maya was by her online swim family during the swim and how excited she was when she completed the swim.   It didn’t advantage me so much because with the swim now behind Maya, I had two extra days to have the jitters! Watching Maya swim for that long made me wonder what I had gotten myself into!   Could I complete this thing? So, when I was toes in at 4am, I was nervous but also excited.  It was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life.  The first thing I said when I got back to the boat to Maya was, “How did you make it look so easy?”  She crushed my time, but I was still happy.  I’m really grateful for having had the opportunity to do this with Maya.

If you feel inspired to donate to Maya or Chris, you may do so through their personal pages: Maya Merhige & Chris Merhige.

Maya and Chris want to thank Maya’s little sister, Lucy for her support during their training and the swims.  “She got dragged to many many training swims and had to listen to our swim talk for six months straight.

Photos from the Lake Tahoe Swim

2020 Swim Across America Highlights: Tyler Roethke and Grant Wentworth Swim the Vineyard Sound and Raise over $100,000

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!

On August 8th, 2020, Swim Across America Nantucket participants Tyler Roethke and Grant Wentworth took their personal challenge to a whole new level by swimming a 10K crossing of the Vineyard Sound! These two accomplished this challenging swim in just under 2 hours and together have raised over $100,000 to support Nantucket Cottage Hospital and Palliative & Supportive Care of Nantucket – simply AMAZING! Way to go Grant and Tyler! Check out these awesome shots captured by photographer Tom Olcott! If you’d like to support these two outstanding SAA swimmers you can do so by going to swimacrossamerica.org/goto/GrantWentworth & swimacrossamerica.org/goto/TylerRoethke.

Board Member Jack Salerno’s Personal Challenge: 21 Triathlons To Celebrate 21 SAA Events

Swim Across America’s commitment this year is to continue providing hope to the individuals and families affected by cancer through support, inspiration, and leadership. If you are inspired by these personal challenge stories, please register or donate at swimacrossamerica.org.

Swim Across America Board Member Jack Salerno created a personal challenge to celebrate each of the 21 Swim Across America cities. Jack has been involved with Swim Across America since the inaugural Run Across America in 1984 and a board member for nearly 20 years.

Jack will be completing 21 triathlons to celebrate each of our postponed 2020 SAA open water events this year.  His goal is to raise $21K ($1K for each).  You can support Jack at his personal fundraising page.

PHOTOS OF JACK’S 21 TRIATHLONS (check back for updates)

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.