Cumming resident Mary Ellen Blanchard Warta is a household name in the swimming world. In 1989, 15-year-old Warta broke the world record for the 200 yard short course, and held it for over 10 years. She was inducted to the Georgia Aquatic Hall of Fame in 2012. She has other accolades and awards during her swim career, but now she looks at her finish line as a cure for childhood cancer.
As a mother of three children, Warta settled into family life. Tragically, cancer struck her young family. Her young son Jonas, battled a retinoblastoma and lost his right eye in the process.
NSW: What drew you to SAA?
Warta: “Growing up swimming and knowing the leadership team at Swim Across America definitely drew me to the organization. When Swim Across America first came to Atlanta, Jonas was in the middle of his battle with retinoblastoma. We were asked to share our story and to motivate others to get involved. Sharing our story is always difficult, but if it means helping another child or family, we gather the strength to do it.”
Lucy Croswell, Public Relations for Swim Across America-Atlanta said, “In my 30-plus years of promoting fundraising events, I’ve never met a volunteer with more faith and determination for the cause. She stands out in a volunteer meeting by poignantly driving home the purpose of why we swim. Her journey, adrenaline and words got me on Day One!”
NSW: How is Jonas now?
Warta: “Jonas is doing great and is a part of the survivorship program at the Aflac Cancer Center. He is now 9 years old, in third grade at Sawnee Elementary School and enjoys swimming with the Chattahoochee Gold Swim Club (along with both sisters).”
In the evenings after work, Warta has helped coach their swim team. Chattahoochee Gold is one of the SAA teams (also known as “Team Jonas”).
NSW: Do you work in Corporate America? If so, how do you juggle all that you do?
Warta: “Yes, I am a senior enterprise account manager for Dell EMC here in Atlanta. My husband Jeff is in real estate and is also passionate about raising money to support ending pediatric cancer. Life is always busy, but having gone through this experience with Jonas put our lives into perspective. Our family, led by our faith in God, has learned to appreciate every day and every minute with each other.”
Lanier Islands Sunset Cove was the location for the most recent open water swim fundraising event for the SAA in September. Over five hundred registered swimmers and former Olympians attended the event. Proceeds benefited the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare Atlanta.