Every 15 minutes, 50 Americans are diagnosed with cancer. This is a sobering reality. But, the good news is that every year millions of Americans are beating cancer through advancements in treatments. Swim Across America, the official charity for swimmers, exists to raise money for our network of doctors and researchers who are the pioneers developing new cures and treatments to this dreaded disease. Michael Phelps and over 100 Olympians support SAA.
Swim Across America is the sequel to the triumph of Jeff Keith’s Run Across America. Jeff Keith had lost his right leg to cancer when he was a teenager. In the spring of 1984, Jeff and his childhood friends Matt Vossler and Hugh Curran were college graduates. The three of them put their careers on hold to take on a near impossible feat of running across the United States. The journey started on Jun 4, 1984 in Boston and finished eight months later in Los Angeles with a call from President Ronald Reagan wishing them congratulations. The run raised one million dollars for the American Cancer Society. Here is a video story of the run.
After the run, Matt returned to Connecticut to work in the family business. He was motivated to help find new ways to treat cancer beyond surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Matt wanted to come up with an activity that people could participate and raise money for research. He was convinced that philanthropic funding would be necessary for innovation to occur in how we fought cancer. His brainchild was a team relay charity swim across Long Island Sound. Our first charity swim took place on August 1, 1987. The swim raised approximately $5,000. Olympians Craig Beardsley, Rowdy Gaines, Sippy Woodhead and Steve Lundquist participated in the early years giving of their time and credibility to the cause. Here is a video story of the Swim Across the Sound charity swim.
SWIM ACROSS AMERICA IS BORN
With the success of Swim Across the Sound, communities such as Boston, New York City and Nantucket wanted to create a charity swim. Our name was changed to Swim Across America in 1992 and we incorporated as 501(c)3 public charity.
SWIM ACROSS AMERICA GROWS
Through the 90s and early 2000s, Swim Across America was a regional organization hosting charity swims primarily in the northeast. In 2006, the inaugural Swim Across America—San Francisco charity swim team relay was created. And into the following decade, our cause grew by creating charity swims in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Kiawah, Richmond, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa, and many pool charity swims. Today, Swim Across America charity swims are hosted in more than 20 communities.
Swim Across America is built on a fundamental value that money raised in a community, stays in that community. This value creates a grassroots community feel for each of our charity swims. Each charity swim is partnered with an academic or research hospital within the community that serves as the beneficiary. What isn’t limited to geography is the innovation and collaboration to fighting cancer. Swim Across America has granted nearly $100M and been a major funder in the advancement of immunotherapy, personalized medicine, gene sequencing, detection and patient programs such as adolescent and youth survivorship.
Lesser known but which we are proud is that for three decades our grants have helped medical students, biologists and oncologists from diverse populations. The entrepreneur spirit and ideas from diverse communities has led to breakthroughs and given hope to cancer patients and their families. Here is a visual of the Faces of Cancer Research at Memorial Sloan Kettering and UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.
The 2018 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to Dr. Jim Allison, the first time an oncologist had received the award. Dr. Allison is a pioneer who has been trying to figure out the immune system role in fighting cancer. His research in the 70's and 80's was considered fringe medicine and a waste of time. Dr. Allison’s career began as a researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering where he collaborated with the Swim Across America Research Lab.
More than 30 years ago, the idea of a grassroots charity program that could provide necessary funding to discover new frontiers to fighting cancer was also considered a pipe dream.
We are inspired and motivated to continue our program because we have heard so many stories of impact that can be attributed to our grant funding. The child who overcomes a diagnosis. The dad who is able to walk his daughter down the aisle. Or a grandparent who never expected to live long enough to hold their grandchild.
Thank you for #MakingWavestoFightCancer with us.