Making a Splash for Cancer Research

Spring 2018 As Seen in Our Spring 2018 Issue
Making a Splash for Cancer Research

By Brennen Jensen

Nurses take to the waters for Swim Across America fundraising

Samantha Rocks, RN, found herself in deep water last September. The ICU nurse clinician was out in the tidal Magothy River near Gibson Island on the Chesapeake Bay’s western shore. She couldn’t touch bottom, the shoreline was some distance away, and her limbs were growing weary of swimming.

But she didn’t panic. Rocks simply remembered what she was doing, and why, and kept determinedly splashing through the brackish water. The payoff was huge.“When I got out of the water everyone was cheering on the banks,” Rocks recalls. “It was very cool–just an amazing feeling.”

The applause was well earned. She had just finished swimming 3 miles and raising nearly $3,000 to fight cancer with Swim Across America, a 30-year-old nonprofit organizer of fundraising swimming events.The group’s debut Baltimore swim in 2010 drew more than 600 participants, setting a record for the largest inaugural event in Swim Across America history. Thousands have since participated in the annual aquatic weekends, taking part in a one, three, or five-mile open water swim and/or a one-mile pool swim. More than $2.6 million has been raised for the Kimmel Cancer Center’s Swim Across America Baltimore Laboratory dedicated to understanding human cancers and improving patient care.

All those kicks and strokes have fueled some serious science, including an important therapeutic trial for patients with pancreatic cancer and breakthrough research in endometrial and ovarian cancers. Just last year, the FDA approved the new immunotherapy drug Keytruda after clinical trials that began at Hopkins with Swim Across America funding raised locally.

More than a few Hopkins nurses are among those swapping scrubs for bathing suits each year. Rocks has been hitting the water since 2015. For the last swim, she formed Team Rocks with more than 30 friends and family members that collectively raised over $70,000. Her ICU colleague Skylar Dunklebarger, RN, was also in the water, albeit as one of the volunteer kayakers monitoring the swim.

“I was miserably slow,” Rocks acknowledges. “But it’s such a great event to participate in. My mom had cancer so I raise money in her memory.”

Kathryn Yarkony, PhD RN, is a five-year veteran of the swims and this year was captain of a 14-member team from the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, where she is lead transplant coordinator and chair of Oncology Nursing Research Committee. She participated in both the one-mile open water swim and the pool swim.“It feels great to raise a bunch of money for the cancer center where I work while boosting my own physical fitness.”
— Caitlin Clarke, RN“There’s a lot of camaraderie and its good to bond with people outside of work,” she says. “I already have two new nurses signed up for the next swim.”

It was a beautiful late summer day for the open water swim. Waves were at a minimum. Even so, swimming a mile in the “wild” is very different from doing so in a pool. “It’s a whole different mindset,” Yarkony says. “You really can’t stop in an open swim and the only way to get back in is to swim. You just have to relax, focus on your technique, and remember it’s not a race.”

Sidney Kimmel’s Caitlin Clarke, RN, has done the one-mile open water swim since 2015, raising nearly $3,000 in the process. Though an avid runner, she couldn’t really swim at all before signing up. Yes, you read that right.

“It was pretty scary that first year and I didn’t really know what to expect,” she says. “Fortunately, they have a nice group of volunteers that teach novice swimmers how to do a mile in open water.”

She began as a solo swimmer but has since begun building a team of colleagues and friends. A couple of new nurses are interested in the 2018 swim. (She has no official team name yet, though she admits that “the Nurse Sharks” has a nice ring to it.)

“It feels great to raise a bunch of money for the cancer center where I work while boosting my own physical fitness,” Clarke says. “Also, both my parents passed away from cancer so I’m in the water in their honor.”

At Top: Caitln Clarke, far left and above with Stacy Messer, RN, signed up before she really knew how to swim.

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