Olympians go for the gold for Dana-Farber patients

Cancer inspires many to give back. From patients’ loved ones to children learning the importance of philanthropy and corporations making a social impact—even Olympians.

Since 1996, Olympic swimmers have come together to raise funds for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund through the Swim Across America – Boston Open Water Swim. Each year, Olympians from near and far join other veteran swimmers, and newbies hoping to make waves, at the event, which has raised millions in support of cancer research and patient care. Beyond that, pre-pandemic, Olympians have brought smiles—and gold medals—to patients in Dana-Farber’s Jimmy Fund Clinic, giving some of our youngest patients, who are often facing incredible hurdles, a unique experience to meet athletes at the height of their sport and hear about the experience of being an Olympian.

“Visiting the Jimmy Fund Clinic every year is one of the best parts of being involved with Swim Across America,” says Janel McArdle, a silver medalist in the 1988 Seoul Olympics and former CEO of Swim Across America, who first swam in the Swim Across America relay in 1989, reflecting on her more than 20 visits to the Jimmy Fund Clinic. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, visits were paused in 2020 and 2021 to keep both patients and Olympians safe. “In a normal year, we bring all of our Olympic medals to the clinic for the kids to wear and seeing their joy brings smiles to our faces. We leave feeling so inspired by their strength and bravery, and as someone who doesn’t train nearly as often as I used to, their inspiration helps me get through the long, open water swims each year. We look forward to a time when we can visit in person again!”

In 2021, the Swim Across America – Boston event is moving to a new location, Castle Island at Pleasure Bay, on August 14, just after the Tokyo Olympic Games close. Swimmers can elect to swim a half mile, full mile, or 5K, or can fundraise virtually to swim their way.

Alex Meyer, a member of the 2012 London Olympics team, is part of the Swim Across America – Boston organizing committee, mapping out the route for the new location, which he hopes will allow more swimmers to participate and grow the event in years to come.

“Swim Across America is a national organization, but each event benefits local cancer research organizations, which gives it a very hometown, local feel,” Meyer says. “I lost an aunt to cancer two years ago, and she will be in my thoughts when we’re out there on the course this year. I know she’d be proud. Participating in this event and visiting local patients really puts into perspective for you what the important things in life are.”

Funds raised by Swim Across America – Boston support Dana-Farber’s David B. Perini, Jr. Quality of Life Clinic, a program developed to ensure that pediatric patients not only survive their diagnosis but thrive after it. The clinic sees patients long after their treatment stops and address any long-term effects of treatment, psychosocial issues, and screenings for possible secondary cancer, among other issues.

“I continue to swim each year because there are too many friends and family members who have been impacted by cancer,” Janel says. “I have made a promise to myself to swim until a cure is found, and Swim Across America and all the doctors at Dana-Farber have been making incredible strides. Great progress has been made in the past 20 years, and I can’t wait to see what Dana-Farber will be able to do in the next 20.”

Support efforts like these by joining The Dana-Farber Campaign, our ambitious, multi-year fundraising effort to prevent, treat, and defy cancer. The Dana-Farber Campaign will accelerate the Institute’s strategic priorities by supporting revolutionary science, extraordinary care, and exceptional expertise. As a community, we have the power to create a more hopeful, cancer-free future—in Boston and around the world. Together, we can defy cancer at every turn. Learn more about The Dana-Farber Campaign at DefyCancer.org.