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Swim Across America benefits cancer research

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ATLANTA -

For more than 20 years, Swim Across America has raised money for cancer research, prevention, and treatment. The organization holds fundraising swimming events in major cities around the country.
    
Atlanta has never before been part of the program, but that's changing this weekend with an open water swim in Lake Spivey and a special Olympian swimming clinic at Georgia Tech.

With her makeup and hair done, Leah Anderson looks like a princess. But if anything, the Dallas, Georgia girl was more of a mermaid.

"Every week we were at this pool.  She swam and she swam and she swam," said Leah's mother, Rona Roberts.

Leah was a star student at Kennesaw's Aqua-Tots swim school.

"I have sometimes 100 kids in the water at a time. Everybody on my staff remembers Leah," said Aqua-Tots Owner Malena Hankins.

As much as Leah loved conquering the unforgiving water, something equally unforgiving became her greatest challenge.

"When Leah was 3 years old, we put her in swimming, and we noticed she had a bulge on the side of her abdomen," said Roberts.

The football-sized tumor was an aggressive form of cancer. She beat it, but two years later, cancer re-entered the race.

"She wanted to do two things, only two things, while we were in the hospital, come home, and get in the pool," Roberts said.

But every athlete, even the best, sometimes loses a race. Leah's final strokes came early this year. She died January 10.

"Before she passed away, I bought a couple of fins for her to come back. Her favorite colors are pink and purple, so I got the fins that were pink and purple," said Hankins.

Leah never made it back to the water. But this weekend, Team Aqua-Tots will take part in Swim Across America in her honor. Hankins will be there, swimming six miles in Lake Spivey.

Leah's mother will be there cheering on the swimmers and the memory of the little girl who would have loved it.

"She would be working that entire lake.  And her spirit will be there on May the fifth," said Roberts.

All the money raised at this weekend's clinic and open water swim will benefit the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. The Olympian clinic is Saturday at Georgia Tech, and the open swim is at Lake Spivey on Sunday. If you would like to participate in the Lake Spivey event, registration is between 6 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. on Sunday. For more information, click here!

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