When Erin Walker began coordinating this year’s swim-a-thon for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, she had no idea what to expect. She had organized the event since it began 11 years ago, but this year posed a special challenge. Charities across the country were suffering, and people simply did not have extra money to donate.
Or so she thought.
By the end of the summer, the LLS swim-a-thon had collected more than $78,000, $5,000 more than in 2008 and $26,000 more than in 2007.
“We’re just flabbergasted that they did such a great job in a year that has been difficult for many charities,” Walker said. “It’s all because of the swimmers and the swim team reps and the parents who are involved.”
This year, twenty teams participated in the fundraising event. In order to participate, swimmers must collect pledges per lap from their community. Then, on a designated day in practice, the team hosts the swim-a-thon. Swimmers swim for hours, lap after lap, raising money with each stroke. Teams swam over 15,000 laps this year.
Walker said that the program’s growth has to do with the nature of the sport. She said that most of the teams who participate have a connection to blood cancers, usually because a swimmer on the team has a blood cancer. These teams understand the support that a person with blood cancer needs, Walker said, and therefore are extremely enthusiastic about the LLS swim-a-thon.
“It’s the nature of swim teams to be very community-based,” Walker said. “They’re a lot like families: the kids go to same schools and swim on same team for many years, and when someone in that community needs help, they just respond and rally around that person.”
Most of the pools that participate are in northern Virginia, though some Maryland pools have also joined recently. Burke Centre Swim Club in Burke, Va. raised $11,151, the largest donation this year. The program also honored Mark Isabelle, 7, of Mechanicsville, Va. Isabelle was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in 2006, and his cancer went into remission this past August.
The swim-a-thons have been so successful that Walker is looking to start a winter program for year-round club teams and local high schools. The program will start in December, and seven year-round clubs will participate. Walker said that the idea for a winter swim-a-thon came about because the swimmers who participate in the summer wanted to continue to fundraise while on their club teams.
“A lot of the swimmers that are on our summer teams also swim on year-round teams,” Walker said, “and we realized that there’s sort of an overlap in the support systems that know our patients and our families.”
Walker has high hopes for the winter swim-a-thon and the continued success of the summer program because the teams themselves are excited to participate.
“It has really grown and exploded over the past year and it’s really because of the pools and their dedication to this that the response has been so positive.”