On August 26, 2017, John Traube went for a 2-mile open water swim at Innsbrook Resort outside of St. Louis. The activity was not unusual for Traube, a former collegiate swimmer whose life revolved around the sport. But the circumstances were abnormal. Nine months earlier, he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive, usually terminal brain cancer. 

Traube had brain surgery the same week, and two days after the swim at Innsbrook, he had a second surgery. Despite that battle, he still swam daily and wanted to participate in the swim, which was part of a fundraiser for Swim Across America (SAA), an organization that hosts charity swims for cancer research.

Traube died in February 2018, before researchers could find a cure for his disease, but his family — fellow swimmers — continued to participate in SAA events in Traube’s honor under the name Team JCT Swim Strong.

This year, his brother, Steve, challenged Traube’s wife, Jen, to join him and his wife in five SAA events, including one at Innsbrook.

It’s important to swim “in memory of him and to further cancer research,” said Jen, who lives in Waterloo, Illinois. “It’s just a very meaningful, special moment for our family, doing something that he loved to do and for a good cause.”

SAA, which was formally established in 1992, has raised more than $100 million and stages more than 20 swims annually across the U.S. It donates money from each event to a local cancer research organization, such as the Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis.

For this year’s St. Louis event, 560 swimmers signed up, making it the third largest in the country behind the Long Island and Rhode Island swims.

For Traube, swimming and fundraising for the organization was a familiar challenge. In college, he swam for Pennsylvania Western University Clarion. Jen swam for Pennsylvania Western University Edinboro. They met at a swim meet.

“He was very charismatic. He was witty, very smart,” said Jen, who teaches preschool. Traube and his brother ran a family business, Traube Tents and Structures.

In addition to trying to succeed as a swimmer, Traube was also “very interested in fundraising,” Jen said. “Whether it was our school or club swimming and then Swim Across America, he would always try to pinpoint why we were fundraising and try to encourage the team to do that.”

The 2017 swim “was almost surreal at times, slightly exhilarating and also sad at the same time,” she said.

Since then, Jen, her daughters, and other relatives have continued to fundraise and participate in the SAA events. Unfortunately, organizers had to cancel this year’s event at Innsbrook because of dangerous weather, but the family still raised $15,000 for Siteman studies related to lymphoma and breast cancer. 

Jen and her brother and sister-in-law completed SAA swims in Florida, South Carolina, Massachusetts, and California. She says she enjoyed swimming in the events not only because of the locations and the fundraising but also because, like her late husband, she loves the sport itself

“Setting goals and accomplishing them — I would say swimmers are very good at that,” Jen said. “We like to work very hard, and we also have fun doing it.”

Author: Eric Berger is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.