Uniting swim communities coast-to-coast

By Rachel McGovern

Swim Across America (SAA) unites swim communities coast-to-coast by hosting benefit swims that raise money for life-saving cancer research and clinical trials. In Atlanta alone, over 550 individuals and 40-plus teams gather each September at Lake Lanier to help fight cancer through swimming at SAA-Atlanta’s Open Water Swim.

One team stands out among many – Team Chattahoochee Gold from Cumming.

Team Chattahoochee Gold was started by Mary Ellen Warta, a championship swimmer and former American record holder in the 100-and 200-yard breaststroke, who uses her love for swimming to give back to her community.

“When SAA was starting the Atlanta event, Olympian Janel Jorgenson McArdle asked if I would like to be involved, given my swimming history and what our family was going through with our son, Jonas.  He was three at the time and had just lost his right eye to retinoblastoma.  Jonas was undergoing chemotherapy when we first started getting engaged with SAA,” said Warta.

“Team Jonas was the original team that raised money for five years and, with Jonas going into the Survivorship Program, we thought it was time for the team to be absorbed into a newly formed team, Chattahoochee Gold.  Many of our swimmers from Team Jonas swam year-round at Gold so the idea to create a new team was an easy decision.”

Fundraising the SAA Way

Now Team Chattahoochee Gold is making big waves with their fundraising and participation efforts. The team continues to grow by word-of-mouth and a grassroots effort led by the Chattahoochee Gold coaching staff. The team is continuously thinking of new ways to raise funds. In June, they hosted a raffle at their last summer league meet, and while they have raised over $2,000 to date, they have set their sights on being one of SAA-Atlanta’s top teams again.

The team had a record event in September, raising $705,000 —  well over the original $500,000 goal.  “Our 1,200 participants,  (swimmers, volunteers and spectators) 21 Olympians and 37 teams came out, and were so energized with the purpose of making waves to fight cancer,” Warta stated.

“I would encourage everyone to get involved with SAA,” Warta said. “It is one of the few organizations that I have been a part of where you actually see where your money is going.  The research team that will receive the funding comes to the event and speaks to the swimmers about their progress.  It is quite a sight – even with more impact when you hear that our SAA funds are pushing early-stage research into federally-backed clinical trials.”