Jun 04 2019

Making Waves Against Cancer

By Colin McCandless For The Island Connection

Swimmers at the 2018 Swim Across America event held at Kiawah Island. (Photo by Rivers Rudloff).

“There’s a tremendous focus on gratitude and the positivity of what we are trying to do,” he said. “We don’t call it a competition. People are timed, but it’s really a safety measure.”

The 2nd annual Swim Across America Charleston Kiawah open water swim charity event, a fundraiser to support MUSC’s Hollings Cancer Center, will be held Sunday, August 4 at Kiawah Resort.

Swimmers can choose between the half-mile or mile and-a-half course distance, which start on Kiawah and finish at the same location as the Kiawah Triathlon, providing athletes an opportunity to practice for that event while helping raise money for cancer research.

Times are posted, but there are no awards or prizes for winning.

“It’s entirely to make a difference in fighting cancer,” explained Swim Across America (SAA) local event  director Brad Johnson. “We’re all there for a cause.”

Eighty-four swimmers registered in 2018 and Johnson said this year’s target is 100.

Participants even feature some past Olympic Medalists who join the swim.

Anyone can start a team (two people and up constitutes a team) from swim and triathlon clubs to corporations and businesses, or you can register as an individual. Swimmers of all ages and skill levels are welcome.

Donors can contribute by supporting a swimmer or a team, donating to the event itself or purchasing a sponsorship level. All of those dollars go directly to Hollings Cancer Center.

Swimmers pay a $75 registration fee, which goes into a fundraising pool helping offset event expenses such as food, t-shirts, the swag packet, etc.

If you cannot make a donation, but still want to contribute, volunteers are always in high demand.

 “We can’t put the event on without volunteers,” states Johnson. 

To donate or register as a swimmer or volunteer, visit SwimAcrossAmerica.org, tap the menu and click on  “open water swim” to find the Charleston-Kiawah event.

The charity event carries a poignant personal significance for Johnson. At age 27, he was diagnosed with the late stages of a rare and aggressive form of head and neck cancer. Johnson was living in San Diego at the time, and considers himself lucky that through a family connection he was able to participate in a new clinical trial to treat his cancer. Before the treatment, doctors said his outlook appeared dire.

 “Obviously, it worked, because I’m having this conversation with you right now,” reflected a grateful Johnson, now 43.

He learned about the philanthropy work the 501c3 Swim Across America does while attending an open water swim clinic they hosted here in 2017 with his Charleston Triathlon & Multisport Club, LLC, for which he serves as head coach.

Johnson wanted to associate with nonprofits that were supporting the medical research community and through his connection with SAA, was invited to serve as their local event director for the Charleston-Kiawah fundraiser. The SAA model is for each swim to have a local beneficiary, and SAA has a scientific board that collaborates closely with each research facility beneficiary. Their swim events focus on raising money and awareness for cancer research, prevention and treatment. SAA’s partnership with Hollings Cancer Center is called “Make Waves to Fight Cancer” in the Charleston community.

“This is very important to me,” asserts Johnson.

When swim competitors reach the finish line at the event, Johnson greets everyone and personally thanks them.

 “There’s a tremendous focus on gratitude and the positivity of what we are trying to do,” he said. “We don’t call it a competition. People are timed, but it’s really a safety measure.”

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