Sarah Banholzer and her friends are donning their bathing suits in Pleasanton Sunday for their second annual swimathon to benefit UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland.
Last year's event raised more than $15,000, and they are hoping to make as big a splash this time.
"People should support Children's Hospital Oakland because they help so many children each and every day like me to make their lives better," said Sarah, 13.
She and her parents, Teri and John Banholzer of Pleasanton, became well acquainted with the hospital when Sarah was treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia when she was 4-1/2 years old. Her care included two-and-a-half years of chemotherapy and several surgical procedures. Sarah is now leukemia-free and wants to give back to the hospital for all the love and support she received in addition to the medical treatment.
When Sarah was 8, she joined the Pleasanton Valley Swim Team, which her mother Teri cites as her first "normal" activity after years of her life revolving around her medical treatments. So when they wanted to help the hospital, a swimathon seemed the natural fundraiser.
They dubbed the event the Be Strong and Give Back Happiness Swimathon, a phrase Sarah coined for a school project when she had to choose six words to describe herself.
"When Sarah and I began brainstorming about the swimathon, neither of us had any idea of how the day might turn out," Teri Banholzer said. "We had no idea how many swimmers would participate or how much money we would raise."
Seventy-eight swimmers signed up the first year and swam laps in a fun-filled day.
"This was amazing and was only done because of the support from our amazing community," she said.
Parents can swim along with youngsters who need assistance, Teri pointed out, and Sarah and her friends will also be there to help. The event will include a bake sale, drawings and T-shirt sales.
Teri remembers last year's event with pleasure.
"The day was filled with lots of smiles, fun and all for the sake of giving back to others," she said. "What better day could one ask for?"
Sarah met with people from Children's Hospital Oakland Foundation and the Child Life Department to decide where the money should be spent. Since Sarah remembers how long and boring the days could be in the hospital, she decided to support a closed circuit variety show that is aired live for the kids. She also recalled visits to the crafts room, and if she wasn't well enough, they would bring the craft supplies to her. She heard recently that the program was out of crayons and colored markers, so she is donating to it.
Funds will also go to support an Off Therapy Handbook and to provide young patients with Chemo Ducks, stuffed animals dressed in hospital gowns. Lastly, proceeds will go to Sarah's Christmas gift project; she has sold more than 700 ornaments during the last two years to buy gifts for children in the hospital at Christmastime.
Teri Banholzer noted that Children's Hospital Oakland does not turn away any child, regardless of their ability to pay, so she hopes anyone who can help will do so, no matter how small their donation may be.
"Donate to celebrate the good health of a child in your life," she said. "Miracles are happening in between their walls and with your help, they can continue to make miracles."
This year's swimathon is set for April 26 from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Pleasanton Valley Swim Club, 5014 Golden Road. For more information, go to bestrongandgivebackhappiness.weebly.com.