Photo of Coach John O'Neill with Elizabeth Beisel and Janel Jorgensen Mcardle. Photo provided by Swim Across America Rhode Island

By Swim Across America Rhode Island

Rhode Island residents will be making a big splash on Saturday, September 10, at the 13th annual Swim Across America Rhode Island open water swim. This swim raises funds for crucial cancer research for the swim’s local beneficiary Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, which focuses on supportinggynecological and breast cancer research. Since its inception in 2010, Swim Across America Rhode Island has raised nearly $2 million to fund cancer research at Women & Infants Hospital. This year’s September 10, 2022, open water swim will include three swim options: ¼-mile, ½-mile or 1-mile open water swim. Swimmers and volunteers interested in participating should register at

While hundreds of local swimmers, water and land volunteers join in the swim, the Rhode Island event is known for having more college swim teams participate than any other swim in the country. This is thanks to Coach John O’Neill, head coach of Providence College Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Teams. Coach O’Neill joined Swim Across America 12 years ago because he wanted to help make a difference in the fight against cancer.

“Too many family members and friends have been lost to cancer and we wanted to do something that could help,” said Coach O’Neill. He quickly became part of Swim Across America Rhode Island and his connections with other college sport team programs led him to encouraging other schools to get involved too. 

As a coach, leader and friend, John has also been the support system for two of his athletes who faced cancer battles while students at Providence College – Colleen Lowell (‘97) and Kara McCurdy (‘22). 

“I am so thankful for the support Coach John has given me throughout my time at Providence College,” said Kara McCurdy. “Coach John gave me the opportunity to continue doing what I love and never gave up on me, even after having cancer. After hearing about his involvement with Swim Across America Rhode Island, I knew Providence was the right place for me.” Kara will be swimming this year with Coach O’Neill’s Providence College team.

Coach O’Neill has shared his passion for making waves to fight cancer and has connected with the other college teams and coaches in the Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts area and encouraged their participation as well. With more than a dozen college teams participating annually, the Rhode Island Swim Across America event attracts swimmers from Providence College, University of Connecticut, Wesleyan University, Holy Cross, Boston University, Boston College, Bryant University, University of Rhode Island, Brown University, Northeastern University, Connecticut College and Roger Williams University, among others.

“Our Rhode Island Swim is unique with so many college participants involved,” said Coach O’Neill. “We hope that once the students graduate and relocate, they stay involved with Swim Across America no matter where their future takes them!” 

Founded in 1987 and celebrating 35 years of #makingwaves to #fightcancer this year, Swim Across America is a national nonprofit organization that holds 24 open water swims and hundreds of pool swims across the country, from Boston to under the Golden Gate Bridge. The organization has an interesting history as it started with a sunken boat in Long Island Sound at its first-ever open water swim and has turned its passion for swimming and fighting cancer into $100 million that supports crucial cancer research throughout the country. 

Swim Across America funding has contributed to four FDA approved life-saving immunotherapy treatments: Yervoy, Opdivo, Tecentriq and Keytruda, and supports research with more than 60 scientific grants funded each year. Just this past June, some very exciting news about 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 by Swim Across America and there are ten dedicated Swim Across America Labs at major institutions including: Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, John Hopkins Medicine Baltimore, Rush University Medical Center Chicago, Baylor Scott & White Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center at Dallas, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center New York, Nantucket Cottage Hospital, Palliative and Supportive Care of Nantucket, Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Lounge at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland and San Francisco and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. More than 120 Olympians support Swim Across America, including Michael Phelps, Craig Beardsley (who is being inducted into the International Swimmer’s Hall of Fame this fall), Donna De Varona, Rowdy Gaines, Janel Jorgensen McArdle, Bobby Hackett, Ryan Lochte, Glenn Mills and many more.

In honor of Swim Across America’s 35th anniversary, the organization is showcasing “35 Stories of Impact” throughout its decades with a special website at John O’Neill is one of the “35 Stories of Impact” profiled.

To learn more about Swim Across America Rhode Island or to register to swim, volunteer or donate for the September 10th open water swim, visit

About Swim Across America

Swim Across America, Inc. (SAA) is dedicated to raising money and awareness for cancer research, prevention and treatment through swimming-related events. With the help of hundreds of volunteers nationwide and past and current Olympians, Swim Across America is helping find a cure for cancer through athleticism, community outreach and direct service. To learn more visit or follow on Facebook Instagram or Twitter @SAARhodeIsland or email Doug Sayles at


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