Each year, Swim Across America hosts hundreds of charity swimming events across the
country in order to raise money and awareness for cancer research. Since its founding as a non-
profit organization in 1987, Swim Across America has granted more than $75 million to fund
cancer research and clinical trials. Additionally, more than 100,000 donations a year are made to
support participants in SAA charity swims meet their fundraising goals. The proceeds from SAA
charity swims are granted to fund cancer research at world-renowned hospitals such as the
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and Johns Hopkins University in
The SAA organizes is a 5k swim across Lake Lanier in northern Georgia. A few
Westminster students took part in this swim on September 22, including sophomore Samantha
Bertschi. “I joined the Swim Across America team with my first lake swim about four years ago.
Since then, SAA has grown from a small group at Lake Spivey to a sold out event at Lake
Lanier,” said Bertschi. “All of the organizers are beyond inspiring, and their efforts to cure
cancer raised a little over $700,000 in Atlanta this year alone.”
More than 1,000 people participated in this year’s event at Lake Lanier, many of which
swam on a team dedicated to or named in the memory of a victim of cancer. On March 25, 2018,
Walton High School freshman and Paralympic hopeful Grace Bunke passed away days before
her fifteenth birthday due to a lengthy battle with osteosarcoma, a very aggressive form of bone
cancer. She had been receiving treatment at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for the cancer for about four years.
“Grace was an incredibly amazing person and swimmer. Words do not do justice to the
impact she made on both the sport and the people who were lucky enough to meet her. Cancer needs a cure so people like Grace can continue to make their mark, and SAA’s funding towards
cancer research gives kids with cancer, just like Grace, a chance to live to see another birthday,”
Swim Across America has been an integral part of Bertschi’s life, who started swimming
on a summer league team at the age of eight. At the time, she participated in a number of other
sports, and as swimming took up more and more of her time, she gradually began to quit the
array of sports that most younger children take part in. “Since then, swimming has been a
constant in my life, and no matter what has happened at school or with my friends, nothing could
stop me from swimming,” she said.
Currently, Bertschi is a member of Swim Atlanta, one of the most competitive swim
teams in Georgia. They hold practices at Georgia Tech year-round, five to six days a week.
Swimming at such an elite level allows her to potentially swim at some of the top colleges in
America, such as Stanford, Duke, and UPenn–all of which maintain elite swimming programs.
“She's dedicated, determined, and has a highly competitive nature. She is detailed
oriented and drives herself to be the best in every set and race. She is encouraging to her
teammates and truly concerned about the team. Samantha has a great future in swimming both at
the collegiate level as well as the national level,” said varsity swimming coach Sharon Loughran.
As Bertschi starts her second year of high school swimming, she will begin to take on a
leadership role on the team, continuing to be as much as of a role model she is in the pool as she
is out of the pool.
“She always encourages me to work harder and keep going in a race and in practice. On
the middle school swim team she was a leader and a role model for all of the grades below her.
She is amazing at distance swimming and is one of the fastest swimmers I know. I love talking to her because she always makes me laugh and she is such an amazing person to be around,” said
fellow swimmer and freshman Gigi Johnson.
With its forty-seven state championships, the varsity swim team has been one of the
most successful teams in Westminster sports history. In February, both the boys and girls
swimming and diving teams clinched the AAA state championship held at Georgia Tech. A
number of Westminster athletes set personal records and won their events, including Bertschi in
the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 5:03.04. She not only attributes her success to months of
intensive training, but also to having such supportive coaches and teammates.
“All of my high school coaches at Westminster helped me throughout last season, and
I’m sure they will do the same in the years to come. At high school state last year, I was feeling
particularly stressed about letting down my team in finals. All of the girls seemed older and
taller, and just in general, faster than me,” said Bertschi. “I began to mentally give up. Coach
Loughran sat down with me, however, and told me to just relax, that I had been training for this
and I was ready. Because of this talk, I was able and inspired to swim my next races, more ready
than I’d ever felt at a meet before.”
As high school progresses for many student athletes, the recruiting process becomes
increasingly competitive, particularly in swimming. Usually, the swimming recruiting process
starts in middle school, as the competition for swimming scholarships is extremely high. In fact,
just over 2% of the nearly 132,000 student athletes that participate in high school swimming will
compete at the Division I level.
“The college recruiting process has become very competitive in the last few years. This
can be attributed to the large participant base in American high schools, where the sheer number
of swimmers has increased immensely,” said sophomore Zac Walpole.
At Bertschi’s current pace, she will be one of the top female high school swimmers by
the time she becomes a senior, allowing her the opportunity to swim at the collegiate, and
potentially national level.
“After my next three years in high school swimming, I hope to continue my swimming
career at a collegiate level, in the hopes of having a team atmosphere similar to the one at
Westminster because I believe the support of others is truly what helps breed amazing
performances just like the one last year at state from the Wildcats,” said Bertschi.
This year, Bertschi and the rest of CatFish hope to bring home another state
championship this season as they kick off against Baylor and Mill Creek High School at home on