ANN ARBOR (WWJ) - An amazing story of courage and determination has resulted in a new world record.
Six women from Michigan broke the world record for swimming the English Channel in a relay Friday night, including an Ann Arbor mom who just finished her chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.
The women finished the relay in 18 hours and 55 minutes — four minutes faster than the current record and just hours after the Olympic Games opened in London.
The relay team consisted of Amanda Mercer, Jenny Sutton Jalet, Melissa Karjala, Susan Butcher and Bethany Williston, all who live in Ann Arbor, and Emily Kreger who moved from Ann Arbor recently to pursue a General Surgery residency at the Detroit Medical Center.
Mercer underwent surgery in March for an aggressive stage two breast cancer and finished 16 weeks of chemotherapy just before leaving for London for the relay swim.
“It is so rewarding that the hard work has paid off, and our team was able to break the record. It was an amazing feeling to be a part of this challenge, and we’ve been training and planning for two years,” Mercer, a 44-year-old mother of two elementary school age children, said in a release.
“But most importantly, we are proud that we’ve raised funds and awareness about ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Because so many were willing to raise money for breast cancer research, I know the treatments are there for me. I’m going to be fine. But for people who have ALS, there is no hope. There is no effective treatment or cure, and there won’t be without money for research,” she said.
So far, the group has raised more than $80,000 for research and is still soliciting donations at its website, www.channelforals.org.
The relay team partnered with Ann Arbor Active Against ALS (A2A3), which was formed by friends of a University of Michigan professor who was diagnosed with ALS in 2008.
Three of the six women are full-time moms, but all are former collegiate swimmers (one a water polo player) who were looking for a way to use their passion and talent to boost awareness of a disease that many know very little about.
The women know first-hand the effects of ALS. Their friend and neighbor, Bob Schoeni, inspired the formation of A2A3. Schoeni is 48-years-old and four years into his diagnosis. He continues to work at U-M’s Institute for Social Research and also coaches his 14- and 12-year-old daughters.
“We wanted to do something really big, to get attention and raise awareness about ALS and help Bob and his family. We hope this achievement, breaking the world record, will help researchers provide hope to those who are diagnosed with this disease,” Williston said in a release.
Mercer, Jalet and Williston are moms. Mercer is an attorney; Jalet is the director of Premium Seating and Transportation in the athletic department at the University of Michigan; Williston is a part-time swim coach; Butcher is a high school athletic trainer, and Karjala is completing her master’s degree in education.
“We are thrilled for these six amazing women! We’re so grateful for their passion and dedication to increasing awareness of this devastating disease and the urgent need for research dollars. The money they’ve raised will go immediately to research labs that are aggressively seeking a cure for treatment for ALS,” Suzanne Ross, president of A2A3, said in a release.
For more information on ALS, along with all the ways you can help A2A3, visit www.channelforals.org.