Grace Bunke was 11 when she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. She developed her love for swimming in physiotherapy after undergoing a partial leg amputation. Grace was able to combine her two passions – swimming and cancer research – with Swim Across America.
“This was one of his last requests from me, is that I continue his legacy and that I continue to swim with Swim Across America to continue to raise awareness but above all to raise funds for research for clinical trials” said Grace’s mother, Vickie Bunke.
Swimmers and volunteers gathered at the Belle Isle Beach home Thursday to raise money for cancer research during the third annual Motor City Mile Swim Across America. Swimmers of all skill levels were welcomed to the event.
Bunke traveled from Atlanta to participate in the 1-mile freestyle in the Detroit River in honor of Grace. Bunke will embark on an “Amazing Grace Tour”, where she will travel the country for 14 Freestyle Swim Across America to celebrate Grace, who has lived for 14 years.
“We will be completing all 14 races in Atlanta in October. We are excited to finish in Atlanta because Grace swam 1 mile in Lake Lanier in Atlanta and that’s how we connected with Swim Across America,” Bunke said. .
Participants can register to swim a half mile, 1 or 2 miles. The charity event is not a race, so the “winner” is determined by who donates the most money.
Swim Across America hosts similar charity swim events across the country. Money raised at each event is donated to a local cancer research center so that the funds directly benefit the community.
“Three words we all want to hear are ‘I love you’ and three words you never want to hear are ‘you have cancer’, but if so you want to hear ‘there is hope, “those three words. What I love about Swim Across America is that the dollars we raise here… all stay in the community,” said Rob Butch, CEO of Swim Across America.
The Detroit event raised approximately $ 58,000 this year, which will be donated to the Rogel Cancer Center at the University of Michigan.
“It has been a fantastic collaboration with Swim Across America. Everyone who comes to volunteer, swim and fundraise so that we can support our researchers, we are so grateful, ”said Julie Brabbs, Executive Director of Rogel.
“Funding … is really hard to find for researchers, especially for what we fund, which is early stage cancer research. In order for a researcher to start and be able to get some of the first data for their research, they need funding. but it’s hard to get that national funding for that, ”said Julie Wheatley, vice president of operations at Swim Across America.
This year’s recipient of donations is Dr. Phillip Palmbos, assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan. Palmbos’ research focuses on increasing the rate of positive responses to immunotherapy in patients with pancreatic cancer. Only 1 in 3 patients with pancreatic cancer have a positive response to immunotherapy.
“I deal with cancer patients all the time, so I have faces that come with all of these research projects,” Palmbos said. Her two grandmothers died of breast cancer in their fifties.
Brabbs also has a personal connection to Swim Across America.
“I myself am a 5 year survivor. The treatment that I have received and the long-term side effects that I will continue to have from it, I am very motivated to support research on it and to help improve the incidents of cancer mortality as well as the quality of life of the patients. survivors, ”Brabbs said. mentionned.
Chad Steed, 49, of Huntington Woods, was the main contributor to Thursday’s event, donating $ 7,000. He too is a cancer survivor.
What he thought was a pink eye from swimming turned out to be cancer. Steed was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in his twenties.
“The first question I asked the doctor was, ‘Can I continue to swim? It’s not going to spoil the swimming, is it? ”Steed said. “Like many of you, if I don’t swim for a few days, I’m a little scared. It makes me happy, so I had to keep swimming, ”he said.
Steed was treated at the University of Michigan and now, 20 years later, is in remission. The longtime swimmer competed in the 1 mile freestyle at the Swim Across America event.
“We support cancer research. We also want to give family and friends the opportunity to honor loved ones who may be battling cancer or who may have died of cancer,” said Wheatley. “Swimming is a really big challenge for a lot of people. A lot of people think swimming deserves the challenge that cancer patients struggle with.”
Rob Atteberry, 49, of Clarkston, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 40. Like Grace, he began swimming during his recovery after his second battle with cancer. Atteberry was unable to swim this year but still paddled with the swimmers.
“I’m going to be back here next year for the 2022 Swim Across America, swimming a mile without a doubt about that,” Atteberry said.
Contact Janelle James: [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @Janelle___J