80-Year-Old Mel Smith Participated in His 15th Swim Across America Seattle Swim

September 3, 2023 at 11:56 a.m.
At age 80, Mel Smith is one of the Swim Across America-Seattle's oldest participants
At age 80, Mel Smith is one of the Swim Across America-Seattle's oldest participants


80-year-old Mel Smith of Olympia has been making waves to fight cancer since 2009 when Swim Across America held its inaugural swim in Seattle.

Today, the swim attracts 600+ swimmers and volunteers, on land and in the water, including some Olympic swimmers, all to raise funds for its local beneficiary Fred Hutch Cancer Center. This year’s swim was held Saturday, September 9, at Luther Burbank Park (South Swimming Beach) on Mercer Island, Washington.

“While I’ve been involved with Swim Across America-Seattle for 15 years, this is actually my 14th year swimming for the cause, as COVID sidelined the actual open water event a few years ago,” noted Mel Smith. 

“I swim with team Y-Naught, made up of swimmers from my Masters swim program at our local Biggs YMCA. This year, I am swimming a half-mile in honor of survivors Laura Beth Whyte, Michael Smith and Carolyn Prouty, and in memory of Karen Russell.”

Mel with his swim team, Y-Naught


Mel grew up in Michigan and swam with his Cooley High School swim team, then swam competitively all four years at Albion College, holding the record in the 500 and 200 freestyle.

Mel with his Cooley High School City Champion team in Detroit, Michigan (1959-1960)


After college, he moved to Illinois and was the swim coach at two different high schools before moving to Olympia, Washington, in 2005, where he became the Olympia High School swim coach. Mel also coached at the Briggs YMCA and just retired from that position on August 25, 2023. He coached swimming for a total of 43 years! In addition, Mel has been a member of the Masters swim program at his local Y.

With many of his teammates on team Y-Naught, Mel has swam 2-miles in every Swim Across America - Seattle open water swim event – raising close to $36,000 for cancer research. This year Mel swam his distance in the pool but was on-site at the September 9 open water swim on Mercer Island cheering on his fellow teammates.

Mel with his family. This year's event takes place at Mercer Island's Luther Burbank Park


“Mel exemplifies the dedication and passion so many of our swimmers have for making waves to fight cancer,” noted David Day, one of the swim’s co-event directors. “To have Mel with us for all 15 years we’ve been swimming in Seattle is really amazing! He has been an important part of Swim Across America and we love having him back year-after-year.”

UPDATE: Close to 600 hundred swimmers and volunteers participated in the 15th annual Swim Across America Seattle open water swim on Saturday, September 9, at Luther Burbank Park (South Swimming Beach) on Mercer Island. The swim was organized by Swim Across America to make waves in the fight against cancer — raising an incredible $525,000 for the swim’s local beneficiary Fred Hutch Cancer Center. The Seattle swim was established in 2009 and has raised more than $5 million for Fred Hutch Cancer Center and funds early-stage projects and cancer research with grants and money raised by the Seattle Swim Across America swim.

Swim Across America-Seattle is celebrating 15 years of making waves in the fight against cancer and has raised an incredible $4.5 million in support of the Fred Hutch Cancer Center, its local beneficiary. This relationship and support has also paid off with recent advancements, such as Dr. Sita Kugel, a researcher at Fred Hutch Cancer Center being awarded the inaugural Translational Research Award from The V Foundation for her work in pancreatic cancer, which would not have been possible without her initial Swim Across America funding, and the Lee Lab’s recent developments in treating castration-resistant prostate cancer as published recently in Nature Communications, which was also funded by Swim Across America-Seattle.

Swim Across America’s funding of clinical trials for patients helped contribute to four FDA approved life-saving immunotherapy cancer treatments: Yervoy, Opdivo, Tecentriq and Keytruda. In June of last year, a clinical trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering was published in The New England Journal of Medicine that showed a 100 percent success rate in treating patients in a phase 2 clinical trial for advanced rectal cancer with dostarlimab, an immunotherapy treatment produced by GlaxoSmithKline. The clinical trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering was funded by early-stage grant funding from Swim Across America. More than 60 scientific grants are funded each year and there are now ten dedicated Swim Across America Labs at major institutions.

Swim Across America was founded in 1987 with its first open water event in Long Island Sound. Since that time, the nonprofit organization has raised more than $100 million to fight cancer. In its 36 years of “making waves to fight cancer,” more than 100,000 swimmers and 150 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, from Nantucket to under the Golden Gate Bridge, which support innovative cancer research, detection and patient programs. 

To learn more about the Swim Across America - Seattle open water swim on September 9, or register to swim, donate or be a land or water volunteer, visit swimacrossamerica.org/seattle.


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