Olympic roots are strong in Atlanta as Olympic swimmers were some of the first to dive in the water back in 2013 to fight cancer with Swim Across America Atlanta. Today, at its tenth annual swim, more than a dozen Olympians and hundreds of swimmers are expected to participate in this annual event that raises crucial funds for the Aflac Cancer & Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. However, you don’t have to be an Olympic swimmer to participate! Hundreds of swimmers of all ages and abilities participate in this fun family-friendly event – all to raise funds to fight cancer. This year’s open water swim is Saturday, September 24, at Lake Lanier Olympic Park in Gainesville and features a .5-mile, 1-mile and 3-mile swim options. To register as a swimmer, land or water volunteer, visit swimacrossamerica.org/atlanta.
In 1988, Olympic swimmer Daniel Watters helped start the Swim Across America Dallas swim. Years later, Daniel asked his friend and former college swimmer Sherri Hart to spearhead the event in Atlanta. In 2013, Swim Across America Atlanta was established with the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta as the beneficiary. Since its inception, Swim Across America Atlanta has raised more than $2.6 million to support cancer research!
Swim Across America Atlanta has had incredible Olympian support from its very first event. Olympic swimmers include Craig Beardsley, Carlton Bruner, Maritza Correia McClendon, Nei-Kuan Chia, Hali Flickinger, Missy Franklin, Geoff Gaberino, Andrew Gemmell, Doug Gjertsen, Bobby Hackett, McClain Hermes, Katie Hoff, Joe Hudepohl, Janel Jorgensen McArdle, Kristy Kowal, Kara Lynn Joyce, Steve Lundquist, Megan Neyer, Heather Petri, Ramon Valle, Neil Versfeld, Shannon Vreeland, Daniel Watters, Amanda Weir, Ashley Whitney, Peter Wright, Eric Wunderlich and Paige Zemina who have all participated over the years. Each of them has their own story as to why they got involved – some with their own cancer journey or having a loved one or friend impacted by cancer.
“I have lost too many family and friends to cancer,” said Megan Neyer, a diver on the 1980 U.S. Olympic team and a 15 time national springboard champion. Megan was one of the founding Olympic swimmers who helped bring the Swim Across America event to Atlanta. “Both of my parents were impacted by cancer. My mother died during the inaugural year of the Atlanta event in 2013; my Aunt, too many friends, and most recently, in 2021, a dear family friend who was only 42. I have a brother who is a three-time cancer survivor who was also a swimmer in college. I am passionate about Swim Across America’s mission because I want to make sure that children afflicted with cancer have the opportunity to live full lives.”
Peter Wright, 1996 Olympian, joined Swim Across America Atlanta in 2014, shortly after his brother-in-law (and good friend) was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Peter’s brother-in-law was successfully treated and is now leading a healthy life. Peter was extremely grateful for the donations from so many that allowed his brother-in-law to receive the proper treatment and he began to look for ways to make a bigger difference when he came across Swim Across America.
“Swim Across America was the perfect answer,” said Peter Wright. “After participating for the first time in 2014, I had to continue my involvement. Swim Across America is filled with some of the best people you will ever meet. I am proud to just be a part of this group.”
Nei-Kuan Chia (1996 & 2000) Olympic swimmer, had originally gone to medical school in Tampa. During orientation, Nei-Kuan was taken on a tour of the Moffitt Cancer Center. There he met a child who was being treated for cancer and that interaction with the child and his family shaped Nei-Kuan’s outlook on his career and life.
“I had a chance to spend time with them that day and would visit with them each time he was there for treatment,” said Nei-Kuan Chia. “That experience made me want to be a pediatric oncologist.” Although his career took a different turn and he never finished medical school, he has always kept the desire to help in the fight against cancer.
“I’ve had family members who have battled cancer and my fiancé’s dad passed away from cancer. When I was asked to participate in Swim Across America, it gave me that chance to fulfill my long desire to help fight the battle against cancer. Being a father and a swimmer, Swim Across America Atlanta perfectly combines all my passions together in helping to directly support the Children’s Hospital of Atlanta and pediatric cancer research through swimming.”
Geoff Gaberino, a 1984 Olympian, has been involved with Swim Across America since 1992 when he swam in the Swim Across America Nantucket event. Geoff’s friend, Craig Beardsley, who is being inducted into the International Swimmer’s Hall of Fame this fall, brought him into the fold. Geoff had a love for swimming and has also been impacted by cancer.
“My maternal grandmother died of breast cancer,” said Geoff Gaberino. “I never knew her, so I swim and participate in her memory.” His Grandmother is not the only reason Geoff has spent the last three decades supporting Swim Across America. “The reason that I come back year over year is to spend time with the kids in the hospitals. They are inspirational. They have such life and joy, especially given their fight. Though I might bring a little joy to their day when we visit, they bring me such hope for what is possible through this cause.”
Swim Across America is grateful for the continued support of Olympians and special guests who have donated their time to support the Swim Across America cause. These Olympians have attended our swims and special events helping generate awareness and raising donations for our beneficiaries. Olympic swimmers attending the swim this year include Nei-Kuan Chia, Steve Lundquist, Megan Neyer, Mallory Wegman, Vesna Stojanovska, Doug Gjertsen, Paige Northcutt, Amanda Weir, Courtney Shealy Hart, Peter Wright, Geoff Gaberino, Maritza McClendon (Correia), and Craig Beardsley. Swim Across America is thankful for the support of these Olympians!
Founded in 1987 and celebrating 35 years of #makingwaves to #fightcancer this year, Swim Across America is a national nonprofit organization that holds 24 open water swims across the country, from Boston to under the Golden Gate Bridge. The organization has an interesting history as it started with a sunken boat in Long Island Sound at its first-ever open water swim and has turned its passion for swimming and fighting cancer into $100 million that supports crucial cancer research throughout the country.
Swim Across America funding has contributed to four FDA approved life-saving immunotherapy treatments: Yervoy, Opdivo, Tecentriq and Keytruda, and supports research with more than 60 scientific grants funded each year. Just this past June, very exciting news about a clinical trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering was published in The New England Journal of Medicine that showed a 100 percent success rate in treating patients in a phase 2 clinical trial for advanced rectal cancer with dostarlimab, an immunotherapy treatment produced by GlaxoSmithKline. The clinical trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering was funded by early-stage grant funding from Swim Across America.
More than 60 scientific grants are funded each year by Swim Across America and there are ten dedicated Swim Across America Labs at major institutions including: Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, John Hopkins Medicine Baltimore, Rush University Medical Center Chicago, Baylor Scott & White Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center at Dallas, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center New York, Nantucket Cottage Hospital, Palliative and Supportive Care of Nantucket, Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Lounge at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland and San Francisco and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. More than 120 Olympians support Swim Across America, including Michael Phelps, Craig Beardsley (who is being inducted into the International Swimmer’s Hall of Fame this fall), Donna De Varona, Rowdy Gaines, Janel Jorgensen McArdle, Bobby Hackett, Ryan Lochte, Glenn Mills and many more.
In honor of Swim Across America’s 35th anniversary, the organization is showcasing “35 Stories of Impact” throughout its decades with a special website atswimacrossamerica.org/35. The Olympians are some of the “35 Stories of Impact” profiled.
To learn more about Swim Across America Atlanta or to register to swim, volunteer or donate for the September 24th open water swim, visit swimacrossamerica.org/Atlanta.