Falcons take to Atlanta to fight cancer


Courtesy of Valentina Kennedy

Cate Mulqueen, ’20, splashes her way to the finish line of the half-mile course.

By Jules Pung, Saint Stephen's Episcopal School

It’s midmorning in north Georgia. With the sun shining high overhead, hundreds of men, women and children wearing brightly colored bathing caps gather on the lake’s edge, waiting for a horn to sound. A long blare fills the air and two by two, swimmers splash their way into the murky water. Among the crowd is a small group of Falcons in decorated green swimsuits, eager to make their first few strokes away from the shore. Their journey around Lake Lanier would be long, but it’s one surely rewarding.

On Saturday, September 22, nineteen members of the Saint Stephen’s swim team participated in Swim Across America’s Atlanta open water swim. After several weeks of racking in donations to fund advancements in cancer research, every swimmer completed either the half-mile, one mile, or 5K courses set in Lake Lanier. Seniors Alex Webster and Graham Beckstein decided to challenge themselves to the 5K, and Alex finished with a profound third place.

Collectively the Falcons raised a total of nearly 7,000, earning them third place overall of the top fundraisers in the event. Swim coach Sheri Hart commented, “I have to say that we have a pretty darn special group of kids and parents who are willing to put the service of others before their own needs. I am blown away by the generosity of the team and the St. Stephen’s community.”

Coach Hart first became involved with Swim Across America in 2012, when she was asked to volunteer as a director for the newly-established event in Atlanta. At the time, one of her young family friends was battling brain cancer, and, wanting to ensure that the funds benefitted her treatment, she reached out to researchers in search of support.

With the help of some friends in Atlanta, we were able to find a doctor who was doing groundbreaking research related to Medulablastoma (a type of brain cancer which afflicted her friend).  After meeting with Dr. MacDonald of the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Hospital, I was hopeful that our funding could actually help change the way children diagnosed with brain cancer were treated, and hence immensely improve their long term quality of life.”

Hart later informed The Gauntlet that the National Institute of Health (NIH) often hesitates to provide grants for research projects unless a “proof of concept” can be given. Along with her husband’s team at Cox Communications, Coach Hart and her family have helped donate to numerous other institutions, including those at the Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute, Memorial Sloan Kettering, Dana Farber, and Johns Hopkins.

In addition to last year’s donations, the money raised by Saint Stephen’s this year will go towards clinical trials for treatments against Acute Myeloid Leukemia in adults and children. Coach Hart hopes these funds will raise awareness towards cancer’s staggering statistics; that is, that 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes, and although 80% of cancers have treatments today, doctors must continue to turn to charities like SAA to finance their research developments.

Hart said, “I love Swim Across America for so many reasons, but the most important being that every swimmer knows their impact… My hope is that our trips will inspire some of our students to choose a career in medicine or think about how they can use their skills and passions to make a difference in the lives of others.”

This story was originally published on The Gauntlet on September 28, 2018.