TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A Tampa 11-year-old is swimming two miles in open water to benefit a national organization committed to funding pediatric cancer research, all in honor of his mother.
Wyatt Deaton swims with the Team Tampa Elite Aquatic Manta Rays and will be attempting the open water swim to benefit “Swim Across America” on May 7 at North Shore Park in St. Petersburg.
He’s one of the youngest swimmers in the nation to be participating in the event.
Swim Across America funds cancer research, clinical trials and patient programs through its charity swims.
It’s a cause near to Wyatt’s heart, as his mother, Michelle, was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer, called secretory carcinoma, in 2018. Previously, secretory carcinoma was called “juvenile carcinoma,” because the average age for the type of cancer was 9 years old.
Michelle was 45 when she was diagnosed. Wyatt was only 8 years old at the time, in first grade. Michelle said telling her son she had cancer was scary.
“I actually invited him to help me pick out a wig, because I told him that the medicine that I’d be taking, I’d lose my hair. And he got really upset. He did go with me,” she said. “Of course he wanted me to get crazy, long pink, crazy KISS-looking hair… but it was hard. It was hard.”
Her son knew he wanted to help other cancer patients. He was able to do so with swimming, something he said he’s been doing since he was very young.
“Well when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I wanted to help and my mom told me that there a swimming event for people that were diagnosed with cancer and to help raise money for pediatric cancer and I was all over it,” said Wyatt.
“I think this has been a great outlet for him because when he joined the team and they talked about Swim Across America, I spoke with Wyatt about it and I told him a little bit about it with the pediatric cancer and he was all over it,” Michelle said. “He wanted to do it because it was a swimming event and that was a way for him as a child to be able to give back.”
This year, Wyatt will be swimming for two full miles. He’s already preparing, even when it comes to the smallest things, at swim practice.
“[My coach], yesterday, he was teaching me how to like, if water starts seeping in to my goggles, just to turn over, open them, get the water out, close them and then continue,” he said.
Michelle, who is now in remission, said swimming has helped her son through the tough times. She admitted she is a little nervous for this swim.
“I’m very proud of him. A little scared, mama bear, but I’m very proud. Last year he did a half a mile, and when I saw the course, I was like, ‘oh my gosh!’ because it is quite intimidating. He was going to do a mile, that was the goal [but] this year, he’s decided to do two miles with the help of his coach, Brian, so I’m proud,” she said.
Wyatt’s coach, Brian Ahern, will be swimming alongside Wyatt on May 7.
“Swimming, by nature, is a very individual sport. Your successes are really based on how much work and effort that you put in on a daily basis,” Brian said. “And to see him at such a young age care so much about other people is quite a great thing to see, especially coming out of our own team.”
Though he’ll have company, Wyatt said he’s still a little nervous for such a big race.
“‘Cause you can’t see the bottom, you have to keep looking up at the buoys and I’m afraid that a shark will come up and bite me,” he said.
Wyatt is already well past his fundraising goal. He has raised over $3,000 for Swim Across America and donations are still being accepted. he has raised the most money so far for the Tampa Bay area swim.
Swim Across America is open to the public and begins at 8:20 a.m. on May 7. There will be a post-event celebration with vendors and music at 9:30 a.m.
All proceeds stay in the Tampa Bay area and benefit Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.