By Jeff Commings
ATLANTA, Georgia, September 19. THIS weekend’s Swim For Your Life event at Lake Lanier Islands just north of Atlanta will be packed with star power, as Olympians are set to participate in an open water swim that has helped raise funds and awareness for cancer research.
Eric Shanteau’s name is at the top of the list, as he is the one who conceived of the open water race in 2010 after a successful fight against testicular cancer and a two-year association with the Livestrong Foundation. (Shanteau recently announced he has been cancer-free for five years.) Other Olympians that will participate in this weekend’s events include Allison Schmitt, Megan Romano, Matt McLean, Aaron Peirsol, Amanda Weir and Kathleen Hersey.
Hersey’s involvement with the event comes through her internship with the Livestrong Foundation, which she started last winter. This semester of real-world work is more than just a way to fulfill requirements for her public relations degree at the University of Texas. It’s a way to honor her mother, who lost her battle with cancer in January 2012.
“She’s a presence to me all the time,” Hersey said. “Once you’re affected by cancer, you want to be a part of (the fight to cure it) in some way, so I’m grateful I’ve been able to do something for my mom, doing something for the swim team and do something meaningful to elevate the sport.”
Each year the number of participants in the Swim For Your Life event have grown. Maybe it’s the lure of spending a couple of days with Olympians or the chance to swim in a picturesque lake, but the popularity has grown to the point that organizers had to place a cap on registration this year.
Hersey said it was easy to call on her Olympic teammates to take part this weekend, a role she is reprising after convincing teammates to take part in last year’s wildly popular “Call Me Maybe” viral video. When Hersey started her internship, she worked in the stewardship department, contacting people and asking for donations.
“The goal was getting people to feel like they are connected to the foundation,” she said. “It was a huge learning experience.”
The first event she helped organize with Livestrong was a 21-mile paddleboard fundraiser in Lake Austin in May, and the natural progression from there was to help Shanteau put on his annual event.
“Eric is the head honcho of the event,” Hersey said. “We just offer as much support as he needs.”
Her work with Swim For Your Life has inspired some ideas for Hersey, and while she’s not ready to divulge some of those plans, she is excited about the possibilities of connecting the swimming community with a goal of curing cancer.
“There are great swimming foundations, but not a lot associated with cancer,” she said. “Something like this helps to get people connected and to get them excited about swimming.”
Learn more about Swim For Your Life at shanteauopenwater.com. Registration for the event ends at 1 pm Eastern Friday.