Seattle residents, Mercer Islanders can swim for a great cause

Mercer Island resident Sally Culverwell, 72, swam in the Swim Across America pool swim at Mary Wayte Pool in June. The three-time cancer survivor will be volunteering at the Lake Washington swim on Sept. 11.     - Contributed photo
Mercer Island resident Sally Culverwell, 72, swam in the Swim Across America pool swim at Mary Wayte Pool in June. The three-time cancer survivor will be volunteering at the Lake Washington swim on Sept. 11.
— image credit: Contributed photo

People don swimsuits and get in kayaks and canoes for a lot of different reasons — fitness, the pure enjoyment of the activity. On Saturday, Sept. 11, Mercer Islanders and residents across the Seattle area will be braving the waters of Lake Washington for an entirely different purpose: to raise money and awareness for Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA).

“I’m looking forward to helping and see the people swimming, and hopefully they’ll raise lots of money,” said Sally Culverwell, a volunteer at this year’s Lake Washington swim and a participant in the 2010 pool swim. “It needs more publicity.”

Culverwell, a Mercer Island resident since 1980, understands the need for raising money to fight cancer, in whatever form. She has survived two bouts with breast cancer, and last year fought off a chest wall tumor.

“I feel awfully lucky,” sad Culverwell. “Last year was the pits; it was just a crummy year, but none (of the cancers) have ever been life-threatening.” While she said that she never was actually treated at SCCA, she went to doctors there for a second opinion.

“They were absolutely fabulous, and I have a soft spot in my heart for them,” she said.

Swim Across America made its Washington debut last fall during the 2009 Lake Washington swim. The organization, which has been around since 1987, holds swims across the country to raise money for local organizations working to fight cancer like SCCA. One thing that makes the swims different is the organization’s long ties to the U.S. Olympic swim team. For years, Olympic swimmers have donated their time to help out at swims, either actually swimming in the race to raise money or volunteering on the sidelines.

For the second time this year, Olympic medalist Mary Wayte Bradburne will return to Mercer Island to help with Swim Across America. She happened to be in town earlier this summer and stopped by the pool bearing her name for Swim Across America’s pool swim.

“It was serendipitous,” said Bradburne. “I was in town on business, and I stopped by. I hadn’t been to the pool in probably 15 years. It’s such a beautiful pool — it was really fun to go back.”

This month she’ll be supporting the local cause once again as a volunteer at the Lake Washington swim. Bradburne said she got involved with Swim Across American because of her former teammate, Janel Jorgensen, whom Bradburne won a silver medal with in the 4x100 medley relay at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

“We weren’t supposed to be on that team, swimming, and I have a very special bond with them. We just never dreamed we would be on the relay team,” said Bradburne. “I saw Janel at the Olympic trials in ‘08 before Beijing and she asked me if I would be apart of this. If said if it’s on Mercer Island of course!”

Bradburne said in the last couple of years several family members dealt with cancer and that brought the fight so much closer to home.

“Last year at Luther Burbank was unbelievable,” she said. “There was so much energy and emotion. People are there swimming for themselves or their family and friends.”

Which is exactly why Culverwell is volunteering bright and early that Saturday morning.

“It will be fun,” she said. “You will have a great time and have tons of fun. And it’s for a good cause.”

The goal for this year, Bradburne said, is to hopefully raise $200,000 for SCCA. Individuals can register for $50 and the minimum fundraising requirement is $300 for swimmers. All participants choose between the half mile and 2-mile swim. The longer swim starts at 8 a.m. the Mercerwood Shore Club and finishes at the Luther Burbank swim beach. The half mile swim begins and ends at the swim beach at the park at 8:30 a.m. People can also form teams of at least three people who must raise at least $900.

“It’s such an incredible cause,” said the former Olympian. “All the money goes to research in cities that are hosting the event. It’s a true community event.” Bradburne said Olympians like Rick Colella, Jeff Float and Camille Wright Thompson will all be attending the event. She said they also hope to have Gary Hall Jr., who won medals in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympic games. All of them will be bringing their medals to the Lake Washington swim, said Bradburne.

“It’s always fun to see all the medals, especially for the kids,” she said. “Plus for me it’s about catching up. There are so many friends I haven’t seen.”

No matter if it is someone first event with Swim Across American or their 10th the opportunity to help is what is it is about, and why the event is so special, Bradburne said.

“It was emotionally charged, in a positive way,” said the swimmer of the 2009 event. “It was packed with people whose loved one had been through cancer. It was beautiful. The fact that it raised so much money was great. If everyone brings someone and it keeps growing it’s bound to become a million dollar event. People in Seattle by nature are very aware and volunteer oriented.”

Learn more about Swim Across America and the Lake Washington swim.

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