Local Girl Participates in Swim Across America



Morgan Hall

The Ashland Beacon

   A local teen, Mary Lara Hardesty, recently traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to participate in the Swim Across America event - the open water charity swim that raises funds for cancer research. She raised funds to sponsor her swim via Facebook, while her parents paid for her entry expenses for the charity swim earlier this year as a gift. By sponsoring Hardesty, donors contributed towards cancer research, prevention and treatment, raising funds and awareness help the fight to find a cure for cancer. Hardesty set her goal for $200 and she exceeded it.

   Hardesty is a senior in high school; she’s been homeschooled from kindergarten. She began swimming lessons at age five and joined the swim team a year later. She’s been swimming with the YMCA River Monsters from 1st to 11th grade, and this year, she focused solely on Swimmers Across America (SAA).  It’s fair to say that Hardesty has harbored a love for swimming since a young age. She currently works at the Guardian Animals Hospital in Flatwoods, feeling that working in veterinary medicine would be a good stepping stone toward her dream of a career in conservation and wildlife rehabilitation. 

   Hardesty first learned about SAA and Grace Bunke in 2017, while attending a Leadership Excellence and Administrative Development (LEAD) Summit. Grace Bunke was a young teen swimmer that lost her fight with cancer in 2018. This motivated Hardesty to not only swim for ribbons or times, but swim for a purpose. She enjoys swimming, especially open water swimming. Hardesty found her own personal way to contribute to cancer research and help others, by using her love of swimming to raise awareness and support. Actually, you do not have to be an experienced swimmer to join the efforts of SSA, they have both open swim and pool swimming and the distance you swim is entirely up to you. “SSA is a pretty amazing experience, it’s a lot of fun,” said Hardesty.

   Teresa Hardesty is the proud mother of Mary Lara Hardesty. “I am very blessed to have Mary Lara as my daughter and to have watched her discover her passion for open water swimming,” said Hardesty. “She’s found a way to contribute and give back to help fight cancer,” Hardesty continued. After her daughter was inspired by Bunke’s story, she realized how lucky she was to be healthy and to be able to pursue her swimming. “It’s a pure joy watching her swim open 5K’s, even if watching her can sometimes be super scary for me as a parent,” said Hardesty. “It’s so worth it,” she concluded. 

   In our lifetime, one in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer. SAA’s mission is to reduce this statistic. There is a shortage of doctors with new ideas to fight cancer. This organization's solution is to host charity swims with the proceeds funding clinical trials and research. Donations have been used to fund Immunotherapy, personalized medicine, gene sequencing, detection and survivorship programs. 

   SAA came from humble beginnings. In 1984, Matt Vossler, Hugh Curran and Jeff Keith put their careers on hold to run across America. Jeff Keith had lost his leg to cancer and the trio wanted to raise funds for cancer research. They actually raised one million for cancer research. They began their journey in June and it ended in August, they traveled from Boston to LA. After eight months of running across America, they received a phone call from President Ronald Reagan congratulating them on their accomplishment. After Vossler returned home, he began contemplating other ways to raise funds for cancer research and he came up with his own innovative idea of hosting a charity swim. After hosting several successful charity swims throughout the United States, the movement grew.  In 1992, Swim Across America was formed and became an official public charity. 

   SAA began as a regional organization in the Northeast, but it’s branched out significantly since the beginning, serving more than 20 communities now. The significance of this community oriented fundraising is that money raised in the community stays in that community. Because each charity swim that is hosted, is partnered with an academic or research hospital. SAA also offers grant funding for medical students, biologists and oncologists from various populations.

   Hardesty was all smiles after completing the swim. While at the charity swim, she met Dr. Megan Neyer, an olympic diver originally from Ashland. Needless to say, we had some talented and accomplished swimmers representing our little home town, down in Atlanta. Hardesty’s love for swimming showed through and through, and she continues to use her passion for swimming as motivation to raise funds for cancer research via SAA.