Teams of family members have long been a foundation of Swim Across America, as families rally together in memory or in honor of loved ones fighting cancer. Team Kennedy is a story that not only begins with the first Chicago swim, but spans the 35 year history of SAA.
In 1988, Mark and Mary Kennedy McCullagh, both Boston College '85 swim alums, participated in SAA's second-ever swim. 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 & 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 & friends each year.
SAA-Chicago has become a yearly tradition for Team Kennedy. They have a family dinner party 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.
Along with Joliet Jets and the Kankakee YMCA swimming, the Kennedy family's swimming traditions include their involvement with the world's first competitive swim camps, Camps Chikopi & Ak-O-Mak in Canada. Several camp alumni participate in SAA swims across the country, with Chicago boasting nine alumni-swimmers in 2021.
Mary took a few years off to raise 3 kids but has since returned to SAA national staff -- facilitating logistics and operational support for all the swims. She and Mark now live near the shores of Lake Michigan in northwest 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 three decades. 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." - Mary Kennedy McCullagh
Three out of every four American families will have at least one family member diagnosed with cancer. Swim Across America's mission is to give hope to all these families.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for media inquiries.