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2024 San Francisco Bay Open Water Swim

Team Chasing Channels

Hi friends and family, 

This year is a special one for me, for many reasons. With your support, I will hopefully be meeting longtime monumental swimming and fundraising goals. It comes with unique challenges and changes, all of which are contributing to how unique this season will be, and how excited I am for it! This marks my ninth year participating with Swim Across America. With your generous support, we have been able to raise over $80,000 for Dr. Julie Saba and Dr. Robert Goldsby at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. I am immensely grateful for your generosity. 

Starting with one big change this year that is bittersweet to announce is that I am no longer with Team Susan Survives. With the encouragement of my dear friend Susan Helmrich, the president of my previous team, I have formed my own team: Team Chasing Channels. My hope is that my team will be the landing ground for the youth/teen population that continues to grow at Swim Across America - San Francisco. I am indebted to the support that Team Susan Survives provided me, and for Susan Helmrich for initially getting me involved in Swim Across America and open water swimming. I am excited for this new chapter and to create a team that is as welcoming of new members, particularly the younger ones, as Team Susan Survives was to me. 

One of the main reasons I have created my own team is because this will be my second year as the president of the SAA-SF Junior Advisory Board. Through my leadership, the Junior Advisory Board aims to engage more youth from around the Bay Area to participate in the swim. We hope to raise more money and have more youth participants in the event as a result of the efforts of our board members. I also want to send a shout out to my vice president and dear friend Morgan Ostrer who has helped me keep things on track!

Another reason that this season is special is because I will finally be swimming the classic ultramarathon swim, the ENGLISH CHANNEL!!! I am incredibly excited to hop over the pond and take the scenic route from England to France. I am scheduled to swim at some point between July 10th-20th, and am expecting the swim to take about 14 hours. But, as I’ve learned from the Molokai Channel, you never know what Mother Earth will throw at you! This swim is also special because it is my first country to country swim in international waters! Completion of this swim will account for my third and final swim of the World Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming. In 2021, I completed the Catalina Channel; and just last year I completed the 20 Bridges Circumnavigation of Manhattan. I can’t wait to take on this challenge!

As you may remember, last year I was faced with the biggest medical challenge of my life. After the discovery of a benign tumor during a ski crash, I spent a week in the PICU at UC Davis Medical Center. Although my training for 20 Bridges was cut down significantly, I was recovering well and cleared to complete the swim. But, in June 2023 I began having episodes of severe pain. In fact, the night before I attempted 20 Bridges I was in the Lenox Hill ER in New York City. Don’t worry, I was cleared to swim and was able to complete 20 Bridges without any pain. But, when I returned home in August, my pain persisted. This is something that I have been dealing with chronically since. Over the past month I have spent 10 days admitted into hospitals, with my time split between Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and UC Davis Medical Center. I have a wonderful team of doctors, and we are hopeful that tests and procedures I have had recently will help to relieve me of my pain (which, by the way, has nothing to do with all this swimming!). Sadly, I have not been able to swim for the past month, so I am now having to completely retrain for the English Channel. This is another one of those unique challenges this year! 

Although my medical issues are not cancer, I am so much more aware of the experience of spending time in the hospital as a kid. I have so much empathy for all of the children that I am fundraising for. My experience has made me even more inspired and passionate about supporting UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals and the work that their doctor’s are doing to make pediatric cancer patient’s experiences as comfortable as possible, and eventually find a cure for pediatric cancer. I have so much respect for what cancer patients go through, and am more committed than ever to this effort. 

I’ve hit you with a lot of those ‘unique’s’ for the year, but I have one last thing that makes this year so special. I have set the ambitious goal of raising $35,000 for Swim Across America and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals. With your generous support, I have no doubt that we will be able to reach this goal! BUT…by reaching this goal, we will have raised over $100,000 over my nine years with Swim Across America. I would not have been able to get this far without your support, and cannot wait to see what we can do to continue to help the doctors and patients at UCSF. Each and every one of you has played a role in the fact that we are so close to six figures fundraised, and I am tremendously grateful. I will be a senior in high school at the event this year, and it will likely be my last time participating in SAA - SF for a long time as I will be moving away after high school (sorry to bring that up, Mom!). I can’t wait to end on a high note of $100,000 raised for this incredibly important cause that is closer and closer to my heart with every year that passes. 

As I mentioned previously, this is a year of unique challenges and changes. I am so excited for this new chapter, and am so thankful for your continued support. I am really looking forward to conquering my fundraising and swimming goals this year, and your support truly means the world to me. 

If you, a friend, or a family member has ever been affected by cancer, I would be honored to carry their name on my cap at the San Francisco Swim Across America event on October 5th, when I’ll jump in the San Francisco Bay with Team Chasing Channels, the Junior Advisory Board, and many other inspirational swimmers to raise money in the fight against cancer. 

You can learn more about my efforts and make a credit card donation at You can also send a check to Swim Across America, PO Box 475842, San Francisco, CA 94147. Checks should be made out to Swim Across America but please include a note mentioning my name –Maya Merhige– as the swimmer you are supporting!

Thank you for your generosity and may it lead to a cancer-free world!

With endless gratitude, 


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