Make waves to fight cancer June 29 with Swim Across America and ACGT.

Apr 26, 2024
Devin Golden

Swimmers prepare to enter the Long Island Sound for the Swim Across America-Fairfield County open water swim.

When Swim Across America – Fairfield County held its inaugural open water swim in Long Island Sound in 2007, it began an annual tradition of “making waves to fight cancer” and raising funds for ACGT.

Seventeen years later, in 2023, Swim Across America-Fairfield County achieved an amazing milestone by surpassing $5 million to benefit ACGT and help fund novel cell and gene therapy research to develop curative treatments for cancer.

“In 2007, we had swims happening across the country, but we hadn’t done a swim in Long Island Sound off the shores of Connecticut in many years,” said Matt Vossler, founder of Swim Across America.

“At our first meeting with Edward Netter, Co-Founder of ACGT, which was facilitated by John Sites, an ACGT Board Member and supporter of the swim, we knew we had found our Fairfield County home and local beneficiary in ACGT. It’s been a great partnership ever since and we are thrilled to have surpassed the $5 million milestone in supporting ACGT Research Fellows, who are playing a major role in transforming the way cancer is treated.”

The 18th-annual Swim Across America-Fairfield County open water swim will be held Saturday, June 29, 2024. Participants can choose to swim 0.5 miles, 1.5 miles or 3 miles. Two new additions this year include a Kids’ Splash for swimmers ages 6-11 and a High School Cup competition for local Fairfield County high school swim teams. There are also land and water volunteer opportunities for those who are not swimmers, such as set-up, swimmer check-in, finish line support or safety support on the water using kayaks, stand-up paddle boards and power boats.

“I started volunteering with Swim Across America almost eight years ago to support a friend whose son was battling cancer. I’ve always said, ‘You don’t have to be a swimmer to make an impact.’ Our land and water volunteers make a huge difference too in making waves to fight cancer. And of course, those who donate to the cause are helping to make the biggest difference.”  — Nancy Carr, event director of the Swim Across America-Fairfield County open water swim.
Swim Across America check presentation to ACGT (left to right): Nancy Carr, SAA Event Director; Barbara Netter, ACGT Co-Founder and Honorary Chair; Kevin Honeycutt, ACGT CEO and President; Cristy Fraser, Event Director.

As the event attracts more swimmers and raises more money for cancer research, this recent milestone is an opportunity to reflect on how the Swim Across America-Fairfield County open water swim came to be. Swim Across America was founded in 1987 by Matt Vossler, of Darien, Conn., in honor of his lifelong friend and college roommate Jeff Keith, who lost part of his leg as a teenager to bone cancer.

After college graduation in 1984, the two had ran across the United States and raised $1 million for cancer research. After the run, Matt was inspired to do something more. He shared in The New York Times, “I was thinking of some way to keep the idea alive; something physically challenging to raise money and help people out.”

On August 1, 1987, approximately a dozen swimmers and their families boarded two boats in Port Jefferson, N.Y., for what should have been a 17-mile relay swim across Long Island Sound. The word “should” is used because one of the boats accidentally sank in rough weather. The swim finished and the boat is still at the bottom of the Sound, but the sunken boat didn’t deter the mission – to make waves to fight cancer. Vossler continued his work, bringing in Olympic swimmers to participate and expanding the swims with thousands of amateur and master swimmers, from Nantucket to under the Golden Gate Bridge.

Since that time, Swim Across America nationally has raised more than $100 million to fight cancer. In its 37 years of making waves, more than 100,000 swimmers and Olympians have swum the circumference of the earth three times, uniting a movement to fight cancer that has created a groundswell of support spanning all generations.

Today, more than 24 communities hold open water swims and numerous charity pool swims each year, which support innovative cancer research, detection and patient programs all in their local communities.

Swim Across America has also been instrumental in supporting the research and funding of four FDA approved life-saving immunotherapy cancer treatments: Yervoy, Opdivo, Tecentriq and Keytruda.

“It’s really fulfilling to have the swim in my own home community,” Vossler says. “We are inspired and motivated to continue to Swim Across America because we have heard so many stories of impact that can be attributed to our grant funding. In fact, one of my wife’s and my best friends and a bridesmaid in our wedding benefited from treatments for metastatic melanoma pioneered by Swim Across America funding. Making waves in the fight against cancer and raising crucial dollars for research means more will overcome a diagnosis. More parents are able to see their children grow up and walk them down the aisle. More grandparents can be there for their grandchildren. More can go on living and enjoy life.”

Swim Across America-Fairfield County’s support of ACGT has helped fund 13 ACGT research grants to scientists working to develop new cell and gene therapies to treat cancer. Currently, Swim Across America-Fairfield County is helping fund two ACGT research fellows: Juan Fueyo, MD (The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center), for brain cancer; and Brian Brown, PhD, (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai), for lung and ovarian cancers. A
third researcher and new ACGT grant recipient, E. Antonio Chiocca, MD, PhD (Brigham and Women’s Hospital), for glioblastoma, will be added with the funding by the 2024 swim.

“We are very excited to be supporting these three amazing cancer scientists, including the newest recipient Dr. Chiocca from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital,” noted Carr. “ACGT-SAA funding will help Dr. Chiocca conduct a clinical trial using an oncolytic virus therapy for glioblastoma.”

ACGT Research Fellows who have completed grants funded in part by Swim Across America-Fairfield County include:

  • Arnob Banerjee, MD, PhD (University of Maryland), for blood cancers
  • John Bell, PhD (Ottawa Hospital Research Institute), for brain cancer
  • Sidi Chen, PhD (Yale University), for pancreatic cancer
  • Greg Delgoffe, PhD (University of Pittsburgh), for melanoma
  • Stephen Gottschalk, MD (St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital), for pediatric sarcoma
  • Noriyuki Kasahara, MD, PhD (University of California, San Francisco), for glioma
  • Samuel Katz, MD, PhD (Yale University School of Medicine), for blood cancers
  • Thomas Kipps, MD, PhD (University of California, San Diego), for leukemia
  • Crystal Mackall, MD (Stanford University), for osteosarcoma
  • Khalid Shah, PhD, MSc (Harvard Medical School), for brain cancer
  • Fan Yang, PhD (Stanford University), for pediatric brain cancer

To learn more about the 18th-annual Swim Across America-Fairfield County open water swim on June 29, 2024, and to register as a swimmer or to sign up as a land or water volunteer, visit the event website.