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2017 SwimSwam Heart of a Champion Award: Jeff Keith & Matt Vossler, Swim Across America
2017 marked the 30th year of Swim Across America using the sport we all love to raise money for cancer research, and that anniversary was marked with a record-setting fundraising haul of $4.8 million. That doesn’t include a $3 million donation from pharmaceutical giant Merck that is being invested to create new SAA charity swims. Since founding, SAA has granted more than $70 million.
That money goes to funding research to fight cancer, at a 73% rate: which ranks them on par with charities listed on charitywatch.org’s “Top Rated Charities” list. Next year, the organization will sponsor 18 swims in every corner of the United States, where age group, masters, and professional swimmers will continue to gather to swim in open water races, and raise money for a worthy cause. The organization also raises money via roughly 100 pool swims every year.
Swim Across American began in 1987, as the follow-up to the one-year Run Across America event completed by the organization’s two founders, Jeff Keith (no relation) and Matt Vossler, in 1985. In 8 months, the two ran across the United States over the course of 8 months and raised $1 million for cancer research.
Keith, a cancer survivor, Vossler, and their childhood friend Hugh Curran launched the first fundraiser in 1987 in Nantucket, Massachusetts. 12 years ago, Keith would turn his focus to launching the Connecticut Challenge to start a cancer survivorship center in Connecticut (and that organization has had great success as well, raising almost $21 million).
Vossler remains on with the organization as honorary founder and as the chair of the organization’s Governance Committee.
Through their donations, SAA has been honored with a named “Swim Across America Lab” at 9 of the cancer research facilities that they’ve donated to.
There have been many spectacular people and organizations that have raised money to fight many diseases, especially cancer. That includes programs like Bryant University’s swim team, which raised $11,500 last year for Swim Across America. The Jesse Joy Reese Foundation, named after a young swimmer who died in 2012 at 12-years old has mobilized a huge number of people both to raise money, and to spread joy under the banner of “Never Ever Give Up.” Many of the biggest businesses in swim, including TYR with it’s TYR Pink collection, have also chipped in to the cause.
So this honor, for the two men who conceived the Swim Across America idea, is an honor for an organization that has served as the tip of the spear, in an effort spanning 4 different decades, leading a tradition of generosity in swimming. To Jeff, Matt, all those who have made similar efforts with other organizations, CEO Rob Butcher, Chair of the Board Hugh Curran, and the thousands of others across the United States who have contributed to similar efforts, you have the Hearts of a Champion.
- Allison Schmitt and Cammile Adams – 2017 was a horrendous year for natural disasters across the world, and especially in the western hemisphere. Earthquakes in Mexico, Hurricanes in Florida, Texas, and the Caribbean, and wildfires on the west coast have contributed to scores of deaths and tens-of-billions of dollars of damage. As soon as Hurricane Harvey and its record-setting rainfalls moved on from Texas’ Gulf Coast, Houston native Cammile Adams immediately jumped into action. She already had a clinic scheduled with Fitter & Faster Swim Tours a few weeks after the storm hit, and she mobilized to convert that clinic into a fundraiser for victims of the massive flooding. She was eventually joined by Allison Schmitt, her fellow Olympian (who is a perpetual nominee for this award thanks to her work with matters of mental health) for their “Race an Olympian” event.