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Olympic Gold Medalist Donna de Varona to Make Waves to Fight Cancer at Swim Across America FC

Nancy Carr, Cristy Fraser, Julie Colligan, Donna de Varona, Rob Colligan. Photo by Cheryl Moss

This year marks 60 years since Donna de Varona earned her first individual Olympic gold medal at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, winning the women’s 400-meter individual medley. But the Tokyo Olympics was not her first Olympic experience. In 1960, at the age of just 13 and already a world record holder, she became the youngest U. S. Olympic competitor at the games. During the Olympics she helped her gold medal 400 X Free Relay team qualify for the finals. In just four years and as a young teenager, Donna broke 18 world swimming records and won two Olympic gold medals, earning her the title as “the most outstanding woman athlete in the world.” Donna went on to become one of the youngest and first female sportscasters for a national network when she appeared on ABC Wide World of Sports at age 17. Her Emmy award winning career took off from there, sparking her achievement and activism in the male-dominated world of sports broadcasting.

Over the course of her career, Donna has covered some 18 winter and summer Olympic games, served five terms on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, helped establish and fund both the U.S. and World Anti-Doping Agencies, and as the founding first President and Chairman of the Women’s Sports Foundation with Billie Jean King, was a driving force behind the protection of Title IX.

She has also supported swimming in her home community of Greenwich, CT, with the national nonprofit organization Swim Across America by being the honorary co-chair of the Swim Across America – Fairfield County open water swim for 18 years in a row, along with her husband John Pinto.

“Donna is one of our dedicated Olympic swimmers who has supported Swim Across America throughout the years and we are so thankful she and John have been part of our Fairfield County swim for 18 years!” said Janel Jorgensen McArdle, chief operating officer of Swim Across America and a fellow Olympic swimmer and silver medalist herself. “We love that Donna and John are dedicated to our mission to raise money and awareness for cancer research, prevention and treatment through swimming-related events and thank them for their continued support. Our Fairfield County swimmers and volunteers enjoy seeing Donna and John at the swim each year. We are beyond thankful – especially this year, an Olympic year, where Donna will be very busy in the weeks following the swim as a swimming commentator for this year’s Paris Olympic games.”

The Swim Across America – Fairfield County open water swim will be held in Stamford, CT, on Saturday, June 29. Hundreds of swimmers and volunteers (land and water) will dive into Long Island Sound to make waves to fight cancer. Funds raised at the event support Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy (ACGT), headquartered in Stamford, at the site of the swim. Since 2007, Swim Across America – Fairfield County has granted more than $5.5 million to ACGT and supported the funding of 13 ACGT research fellows, contributing to their mission to help develop cell and gene therapies that strengthen the immune system to fight cancer without impacting healthy tissue.

Currently, Swim Across America – Fairfield County is helping to fund two ACGT research fellows: Juan Fueyo, MD, at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center for brain cancer, and Brian Brown, PhD, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai for lung and ovarian cancers. A third researcher and new ACGT research fellow, E. Antonio Chiocca, MD, PhD, at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who is working on glioblastoma, will be added with the funding from the 2024 swim.

“I’ve been very happy to dedicate time to attend the Swim Across America – Fairfield County open water swim each year,” said Donna de Varona. “Both my sister and brother are cancer survivors, so the mission to make waves to fight cancer is very near and dear to my heart. It’s wonderful to see the community come together and unite in such a strong, loving way to try and make a difference in the lives of so many by funding new and innovative treatments for cancer. John and I have been honored to be a part of it.”

Three swim distances are available at the June 29 swim: a half-mile, 1.5-mile and 3-mile swim. NEW this year is a Kids’ Splash for children ages 6 to 11 and for parents with young children, and a High School Cup trophy to be awarded to a Fairfield County area high school team (a combined swim, dive and/or water polo team), who together fundraises the most.

To register as a swimmer, boater, paddle boarder, kayaker or land volunteer, go to swimacrossamerica.org/fc

Founded in 1987, by Darien, CT, resident Matt Vossler, Swim Across America nationally has raised more than $100 million to fight cancer. In its 37 years of making waves, more than 100,000 swimmers and Olympians have swum the circumference of the earth three times uniting a movement to fight cancer that has created a groundswell of support spanning all generations. Today, more than 24 communities hold open water swims and charity pool swims each year, which support innovative cancer research, detection and patient programs.

Swim Across America grants helped support the research and clinical trials for FDA approved immunotherapy medicines; Keytruda, Opdivo, Yervoy, and Tecentriq.

To learn more about the June 29 Swim Across America – Fairfield County open water swim or to register to swim, volunteer, or to donate to the cause, you can visit swimacrossamerica.org/fc

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