Swim Across America

Swim Across America, Inc.
Founded June 1987
Type Non-Profit
Tax ID no. 501©(3)
Key people Janel Jorgensen-McArdle, President
Slogan Making Waves to Fight Cancer
Website www.swimacrossamerica.org

Swim Across America Inc., (SAA) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that is dedicated to raising money and awareness for cancer research, prevention and treatment by hosting open water and pool swim events across the US. SAA, whose events often include Olympians such as Michael Phelps, Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres, has raised over $40 million since its inception. Money raised by SAA supports world-renowned hospitals, laboratories and clinics, including the Swim Across America lab at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, which played a key role in developing the first drug to treat metastatic melanoma approved by the FDA in 13 years.[1] Swim Across America’s events are community oriented and attract swimmers of all ages and skill levels. SAA has been sponsored by corporate giants such as Verizon, Speedo, Balance Bar, Bank of America and Chobani.

Origins and mission


Childhood friends Jeff Keith and Matt Vossler began Swim Across America with a swim in 1987. Keith, a survivor of cancer, had lost part of his right leg to the disease. After Keith and Vossler graduated from Boston College, they ran across the country to raise $1 million for cancer research, and subsequently organized that first open water swim in Nantucket to raise money for local cancer groups.[2]

Vossler is currently on Swim Across America's national board of directors.


The mission statement of Swim Across America is: Swim Across America, Inc., [SAA] is dedicated to raising money and awareness for cancer research, prevention and treatment through swimming- related events. With the help of hundreds of volunteers nationwide and past and current Olympians, SAA is helping find a cure for cancer through athleticism, community outreach and direct service.[3]

Swim Across America’s motto is “Making Waves to Fight Cancer.”


Swim Across America hosts three types of swimming events: large scale open water swims, community oriented pool swims and virtual swims. Each event is characterized by the community that it is being held in, with various distance options, courses and beneficiaries. For each event, swimmers raise money by asking others to sponsor their participation. SAA then donates the raised funds to a local beneficiary, allowing participants to make a direct impact on their communities.

Open water swims

Open water swims are swimming events held outdoors in bodies of water such as bays, oceans and lakes. Currently, Swim Across America hosts over a dozen open water swims in the US, and the courses vary from a 1/2 mile swim to a 22 mile relay swim. SAA’s open water swims typically raise hundreds of thousands of dollars each, and most are held in major metropolitan areas, including Dallas, TX, Boston, MA, Chicago, IL, Seattle, WA, Baltimore, MD, and San Francisco, CA.[3][4]

SAA provides “angel swimmers” at open water events for participants who feel uncomfortable or nervous during the swim. These angel swimmers swim side by side with participants, providing mental and emotional support and helping a swimmer if he or she becomes distressed.[5]

SAA pool program

Pool swims are swimming events held at indoor or outdoor pools. The SAA Pool Program allows people across the country to host events in their communities, and many are organized by companies or club, college, high school and masters teams. Swimmers typically complete a certain number of laps comparable to various distances, and these events tend to reflect the nature of the participants. Swim Across America’s pool program hosts swims nationwide.[6]

The SAA Virtual Swim Program allows people the chance to fundraise for SAA with an individual swim, or by participating in another non-SAA event. A swimmer or group of swimmers may complete a swim that is not organized as a Swim Across America event and donate fundraising to the organization. Some virtual swim participants complete swims as part of other events, such as the swimming portion of a triathlon or a race during a swim meet. Virtual swim participants choose their distance and fundraising goals, and are of all ages and ability levels.[3]

Emotional and community involvement

Because of the prevalence of cancer, almost all Americans have been touched by it: over 1.5 million cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2011 alone.[7] This proximity to the disease gives SAA’s programming an emotional aspect. Swim Across America events commonly include participants that are cancer patients and survivors, doctors from beneficiaries, and families and friends forming memorial teams. Communities come together to fight the disease, donating time and goods, forming dedication teams to honor loved ones, and collectively raising hundreds of thousands of dollars year after year.[4][6][8]

Sponsors and partnerships

A number of sponsors play a substantial role in the execution of SAA events. Companies, including Chobani, Dunkin Donuts, Balance Bar and Xterra Wetsuits, provide products at SAA events for swimmers and volunteers, as well as giveaways to encourage fundraising. Other companies, including Columbus Circle Investors, John Hancock, Lehman Brothers[9] and BTIG have partnered with Swim Across America and provided support through corporate sponsorship and company participation in swims.[3]


Swim Across America continues to partner with Olympians in all aspects of the organization. Many, including Michael Phelps,[6] Jenny Thompson, Brooke Bennett and Ben Wildman-Tobriner, act as celebrity swimmers, honorary chair members and volunteers during swimming events. Others have acted as board members, and some Olympians are present administrators on both the regional and national level, including Swim Across America’s current President, Janel Joregensen-McArdle.[2]  Others still, like Josh Davis,[4] Jeff Float and Ray Carey, run SAA clinics to prepare athletes for swimming events.


Swim Across America uses donations to support patients in all stages of cancer, from early research to diagnosis to treatments to post-cancer support. Beneficiaries include many of the most prestigious cancer research institutes in the US, such as the Perini Quality-of-Life Clinic at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute,[5] the DeMatteo and the Swim Across America laboratories at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center,[1] the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center at Baylor University Medical Center. Fundraising from SAA events is consistently donated to local beneficiaries, allowing participants to have a direct impact on their communities.[8]

In at least three cancer research and care institutes, including Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center at Loyola University Medical Center and the Sidney-Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Swim Across America’s donations have led to the establishment and operation of new research labs named for the organization.

Growth and the future

2012 marks the 25th year of Swim Across America. The organization has raised over $40 million for cancer research, prevention and treatment[10] and continues to grow, adding new open water and pool swims each year.


  1. ^ a b "LoPriore, Danny. "Cancer Fighters 'Swim Across America'" The Daily New Rochelle. Mainstreet Connect, 19 July 2011. Web. 22 Sept. 2011.". 
  2. ^ a b Jeff Keith's Road to Survivorship." Connecticut Challenge. Connecticut Challenge, Inc. Web. 8 Sept. 2011.""". 
  3. ^ a b c d http://www.swimacrossamerica.org
  4. ^ a b c Watkins, Mike. "CP Gives Back: Swimming to Raise Awareness and Money for Cancer." USA Swimming. USA Swimming, 4 May 2011. Web. 8 Sept. 2011.
  5. ^ a b Jeffrey, Cathleen. "Swim Across America Attracts 140 Swimmers to Nantasket." Wicked Local Hull. Gatehouse Media Inc., 17 July 2010. Web. 14 Sept. 2011..
  6. ^ a b c Perl, Larry. "Cancer Patient Keeping Her Head above Water." Explorebaltimorecounty.com. The Baltimore, 13 Sept. 2011. Web. 20 Sept. 2011..
  7. ^ American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2011. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2011. .
  8. ^ a b Giglio, Rebecca. "Swim for Hospice of Rockland Raises Over $8000." NewCity Patch. Patch, 20 Aug. 2011. Web. 8 Sept. 2011.
  9. ^ Newman, Andy. "Chronicle." The New York Times 27 Aug. 1996, Style sec. The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Web. 8 Sept. 2011.
  10. ^ Swim Across America Returns to Lake Washington on Saturday, Sept. 10, Benefiting Seattle Cancer Care Alliance." Nutrition.Diet News Online Newspaper. Nutrition.Diet News, 22 Aug. 2011. Web. 8 Sept. 2011.""". 
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