Swim with a Purpose

The Vitamin Shoppe makes waves with its Swim Across America sponsorship.
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The Vitamin Shoppe makes waves with its Swim Across America sponsorship

Interestingly enough, the history of Swim Across America began with a run called Jeff Keith’s Run Across America, which was inspired by a run across Canada. The run across Canada was attempted by Terry Fox, the famous Canadian athlete and humanitarian who, after losing his leg to cancer, tried to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research in 1980.

Swimming

“One of the co-founders of Swim Across America, Jeff Keith, lost his leg to cancer when he was a child,” says Janel Jorgensen, the executive director of Swim Across America. “Jeff was inspired by Terry’s story and decided that he wanted to be the first person to run across America.”

Keith embarked on his run in 1984 with his childhood friend Matt Vossler soon after he graduated college. The trek began in Boston and ended eight months later when they arrived in Los Angeles, having raised more than $1 million for cancer research along the way.

“A few years after their run, they wanted to keep that ‘giving back’ feeling alive,” Jorgensen says. “That’s when they switched to swimming. The first race was a 35-mile relay swim in Nantucket, Mass. That was 24 years ago.”

Since then, Swim Across America has grown almost exponentially, accounting for more than $30 million of donations toward cancer research, prevention and treatment. “We now have 12 open-water swims in major cities, and we run a national pool program, where people can put on a pool swim to raise money if they aren’t able to attend an event,” Jorgensen says.

With Swim Across America gaining a national foothold, the corporate leaders of The Vitamin Shoppe thought it would be the perfect time to partner with the cause and bolster the organization’s coast-to-coast presence. “When I first talked with The Vitamin Shoppe, we discussed the synergies of what’s important to them and what’s important to us,” Jorgensen says. “We are really able to support each other, and they’re a great partner.”
While The Vitamin Shoppe is a national sponsor and effectively sponsors all the swims, they have chosen four swims as signature events to be a part of this summer, including the Long Island Sound Swim, the Seattle, Lake Washington Swim, the Baltimore Open Water Swim, and the San Francisco Bay Swim.

This will be the first time Baltimore is hosting an event, but it promises to be one of the more exciting swims of the year because Olympic champion Michael Phelps will be attending. “Baltimore is a really pretty venue for a race,” says Jorgensen, herself a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic swimming team. “That’s what is so great. Each swim has its own personality and its own beneficiary. That is one of the ways that Swim Across America differentiates itself from other charities. All the money that we raise stays local. In Boston, money raised goes to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, in New York it goes to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and so on.”

In addition to different locales and beneficiaries, each swim has its own structure; some swims are distance relays, while others offer several distance options, ranging from a half-mile to even six miles, with the idea that there’s something for everybody.

“It’s great because every skill level can get involved,” Jorgensen says. “We have a blend of club swimmers, masters swimmers, triathlon swimmers, and Olympians at our events, but it’s not a race. We really stress that it’s not about winning but about finding a cure for cancer and swimming for a great cause.” It’s a cause The Vitamin Shoppe is proud to champion. Visit swimacrossamerica.org to learn more.

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