The North Carolina swimming and diving team kicked off its competitive season in Charlotte on Friday. The next morning, the Tar Heels returned to Koury Natatorium in Chapel Hill for a day filled with laughter, hope and even a few tears.
This emotional power of the pool was on full display as 21 teams of various ages and skill levels participated in the second annual Swim Across America relay for cancer on Sept. 30. While its initial fundraising goal was $125,000, the event raised over $132,000 — the largest single-day pool event total in SAA history.
“We ask everybody that participates, which is everybody on the team, to do their own fundraising page,” UNC swimming and diving coach Mark Gangloffsaid. “We get them involved in their own network of people and we ask them to tell their own story and why it’s important for them to be participating in the event. So I think it’s a great thing for college-aged kids to understand that they can have an impact on their community.”
Since its first charity swim took place in 1987, Swim Across America has emerged as one of the preeminent aquatic fundraisers for cancer treatment centers nationwide. With over $100 million raised to date, the non-profit ensures that 100 percent of its grants must be spent on approved cancer research or clinical trial programs.
This weekend’s relay was organized on behalf of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, the state’s only public comprehensive cancer facility. Through sign-ups and online donations, the Tar Heel community came together to support the center’s programs in cancer treatment research, prevention initiatives and physician training.
From an athlete’s perspective, UNC diver-turned-coach Anton Down-Jenkins noted the power of Swim Across America in integrating the team into the greater Chapel Hill area outside of the pressure of competition.
"It's almost just kind of, like, destressing a little bit," he said. "The swim and dive team works so hard, so many hours a day, so many weeks, I think today is just a challenge for us to have a bit of fun and connect with our friends, family and fans.”
Emily Grund, another former Tar Heel diver, embodies the resiliency that inspired the creation of Swim Across America. At 21 years old, she was diagnosed with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia, a rare form of cancer. After being declared in remission in Oct. 2021, Grund has since become an advocate for UNC Lineberger's Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer program, which focuses on the physical, mental and emotional needs of people between 13 and 39 years old with cancer.
“It’s because of events like this, and donations from everybody and fundraisers, that we’re able to get the necessary research and treatments that so many people need and deserve,” Grund said.