GRACE BUNKE: OUR FRIEND, OUR TEAM MATE AND A FIGHTER!
 
You can support Team Amazing Grace by: - Registering to swim at one of the 14 scheduled swims. - Volunteering at an event either on land making certain the event runs smoothly or in the water as safety support for swimmers (e.g., boater, kayaker, stand-up paddleboarder).

 

Grace Bunke's Story

Grace Bunke's Story:

Anyone who met Grace or knew Grace will tell you that the only way to describe her was AMAZING!!!

In August 2014, Grace, a competitive youth cross-county/track and soccer athlete, was diagnosed with metastatic osteosarcoma (which is bone cancer) at the age of 11. The cancer was found in her left femur and both of her lungs. She underwent 18 rounds of in-patient chemotherapy, a partial and unique leg amputation called rotationplasty, and 2 lung surgeries.

 

Her initial treatment concluded in April 2015. In an attempt to get back into shape, Grace decided to try swimming and joined one of Swim Atlanta's swim teams. Although prior to her cancer diagnosis, she had not swum a single lap in a pool, Grace immediately fell in love with swimming. She continued to swim through her original cancer relapse in October 2016 that required a third lung surgery to remove a tumor, and she continued to swim through an antibody clinical trial from November 2016 - February 2017.

 

 

Unfortunately, her cancer returned again in July 2017, but that time in her spine. Goals of possible treatments changed from being focused on a cure to being focused on the quality of Grace's life. In order to continue swimming and stop the tumors on her spine from growing, Grace completed 13 radiation treatments and began an oral chemotherapy regimen. However, the chemotherapy interfered with Grace's desire to swim; and as a result, she decided to stop this treatment in September 2017.

 

 

Several weeks after stopping the treatment, Grace swam a mile in open water in Lake Lanier in just 27 minutes. Shortly thereafter, it was discovered that her cancer had spread further in her spine and she completed 13 more radiation treatments. During this time, she continued to swim and train, made the Walton High School swim team, and continued to improve her performance in the pool.

 

Unfortunately, a month later, Grace learned that her cancer had further spread in both of her lungs making it difficult to breathe. Grace decided to restart oral chemotherapy in hopes of slowing down her cancer so that she could continue to swim for as long as she possibly could.

 

In mid-January, additional tests revealed that her disease continued to overtake her body. No longer able to swim and knowing that her life was soon going to end, she decided to focus on giving back. With the help of her mother, during one of her last hospitalizations in February 2018, she wrote the following on her Swim Across America fundraising page:

 

 

And rest assured, I will definitely be at Lake Lanier come September 22nd. You just might not be able to see me. But if you are swimming in the water or cheering along the shore or riding in a kayak or handing out tattoos or water or Gatorade, I hope you will be able to feel my presence and spirit as we all continue to make waves to cure cancer. Because I am hopeful that by working together, we can change the future of other young (and old) people like myself who are diagnosed with cancer. Although all of the Open Water Atlanta SAA events in September will have a finish line, guess what doesn't? Hope. Hope has no finish line.

 

On March 25th, one day shy of her 15th birthday, Grace took her last breath.

 

 

Grace's Impressive Accomplishments:

 

 

Grace began swimming when she was 12 years old in August 2015, only 3 months following the end of her initial cancer treatment that included a leg amputation, chemotherapy, and 2 lung surgeries. In a short time and with the help of her Swim Atlanta coaches, she learned to do a flip turn, master all of the swimming strokes and breathing techniques, as well as develop an overall understanding of the sport of swimming. For 14 months, Grace trained and competed disease-free.

During that time, she competed in 2 short-course swim meets for Swim Atlanta and joined an adaptive swimming team in town called Blaze Sports. Through both of these organizations, Grace continued to improve her swimming strokes and performance.

 

In fact, in May 2016 at her very first Paralympic swim meet in Cincinnati, Grace swam fast enough to meet the time requirements set forth by the American and Canadian Paralympic Swimming Committees called the Can-Am Time Standards. These also happen to be the same time standards used for entrance into the US Paralympic Swimming Trials that take place every 4 years of a Paralympic year.

 

As a result, Grace had an opportunity in July 2016 to travel to Gatineau, Canada to compete at the Speedo National Paralympic Swimming Championships where she earned Personal Bests in all of her swimming events.

 

In October 2016, 3 days prior to leaving for Augusta to swim in her 5th swim meet, Grace learned that her cancer had returned – a new tumor was found in her left lung. But that news did not stop Grace from attending the Fred Lamback Swim Meet that weekend, once again earning PB's in all of her races. The day after this swim meet, Grace underwent her third lung surgery to remove this cancerous tumor.

 

Still that did not stop Grace from continuing to swim and train. A week following her 3rd lung surgery, Grace was back at swim practice and 4 weeks later, she traveled to Miami where she competed in her second U.S. Paralympics Swimming National Championships. And once again, Grace managed to improve her times in every swimming event earning 1st place in the 100 meter Butterfly and 50 meter Backstroke.

 

In hopes of preventing her cancer from returning, the week following the Miami swim meet, Grace enrolled in a clinical antibody trial. She continued to swim throughout this antibody treatment, even after developing a blood clot in 3 arteries as a result of her treatment that concluded in February 2017.

 

Two months later, Grace was back competing for Swim Atlanta at Georgia Tech where she earned Personal Bests in the 100 meter Freestyle and 50 meter Backstroke. Around that time, Grace began to experience back pain but continued to swim and compete. She returned to Cincinnati where she broke all of her Personal Records once again. Although Grace’s back pain persisted throughout the summer of 2017, she continued to swim and train. Her next swimming goal was to earn a spot on the Walton High School swim team where she would be a 9th grader that August.

 

Sadly, however, a few months later in July 2017, the cause of Grace’s back pain was discovered to be due to disease. Her cancer had returned for the second time, but this time in her spine.

 

This news brought with it a new and sobering reality…Grace’s cancer could be treated if she chose but her medical team could not offer her the promise of a cure. Rather, she was given a terminal prognosis only a week before enrolling in 9th grade at Walton High School. That news did not deter Grace from continuing to pursue her swimming dreams. She selected a treatment that, although could not cure her of her disease, would allow her the best chance to continue swimming.

 

In November, she learned that her cancer had spread to both of her lungs but she just kept swimming. During the fall of her freshman year, Grace took oral chemotherapy every night, but she just kept swimming. She experienced periods of time where she struggled to breathe normally, but she just kept swimming.

 

In December of 2017, Grace was honored to be presented with her Team USA swim caps at her third 3rd U.S. Paralympics Swimming National Championships in Charlotte, North Carolina where she once again earned Personal Bests in all of her swimming events finishing in first place in the 200 meter Freestyle and 50 meter Butterfly.

 

Grace qualified for the 2018 Short-Course Age Group State Championships that were to take place in February 2018. Sadly, however, a few days before the event she realized that she was too sick to swim. But that didn’t stop her teammates from figuring out a way to honor Grace at the meet. They recruited Olympian Amanda Weir to swim in her place. Here is a video from that meet:

 

Even though Grace didn’t start swimming until the age of 12 following her leg amputation and cancer treatment and only swam in 14 swim meets in her entire life, in every single race in every single one of those meets, Grace swam faster (even if just by hundredths of a second) than she had ever swam before. She swam faster as she became sicker. She swam faster as the disease spread throughout her body which included her spine and both of her lungs. She swam faster even when she required oxygen to navigate her day. She swam faster even while taking chemotherapy medications. She swam faster even during her radiation treatments. She swam faster even though she was a hospice patient. She swam faster even when she stopped going to swim practice. She swam faster while planning her own funeral and spelling out for us her final wishes. She swam faster as she was dying.

 

And that is amazing!