Spring Area Swimmer Andy Rieger Makes Waves Again to Fight Cancer and Inspires Hope in Others

Spring Area Swimmer Andy Rieger Makes Waves Again to Fight Cancer and Inspires Hope in Others

October 09 2023

Andy Rieger, age 50, of Spring, has always had a love of water. In fact, he grew up swimming competitively from age five to 22. This year on Saturday, October 14, Andy will be joining hundreds of other swimmers as they dive into Lake Longhorn for the fifth annual Swim Across America Houston open water swim to make waves to fight cancer and raise funds for The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Swimmers, land and water volunteers are encouraged to join and can register at swimacrossamerica.org/houston.

“As a child and teenager, I competed at swim meets at Youngstown State University and at the Trumbull County YMCA,” noted Andy Rieger. “I also swam for four years at West Point, where I was the swim team captain my senior year. I then took time off from swimming for a few decades and started running to stay active. But after a few knee surgeries, my wife Jordana encouraged me to get back in the water. I did and discovered the joy of open water swimming.”

In 2012, Andy and his family’s world was turned upside down when Jordana was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.

“We were living overseas when she was diagnosed,” noted Andy. “Since I was in the oil and gas industry, we were able to come back to Houston for treatment.”

The family settled back in Houston and Jordana was treated at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Jordana received multiple treatments and procedures including chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. After a six-year battle, Jordana sadly passed away in 2018.

“Jordana endured more than I thought was possible” said Andy. “She fought with everything she had. During that time so many people supported our family with kindness, generosity, and in other ways that I can never repay them personally. I never really grasped how many lives are impacted daily by cancer until my family was immersed in the battle with Jordana.”

After Jordana passed, Andy sought a way to give back to the community that gave him so much during their difficult times.

“In late 2018, I stumbled upon Swim Across America, which was planning its inaugural swim in Houston for April 2019,” noted Andy. “I wanted to honor Jordana and pay it forward to all those who supported my family. Swim Across America was a perfect match for the two things I was passionate about: fighting cancer and swimming.”

Andy formed his team, Team Rae, and they have swum at every Swim Across America – Houston event since 2019. Funds raised at the Swim Across America -Houston open water swim are granted to researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

In late 2021, cancer hit home again when Andy’s brother Matt was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer and passed away shortly after his diagnosis at age 50. Matt lived in Chicago, home to another Swim Across America event, so Andy set out to make waves in Chicago too.

Jordana Rae Rieger
May 6, 1973 - April 20, 2018
Matt Rieger
May 21, 1971 - October 27, 2021

“Swimming again was the perfect way to honor Matt and continue to support the fight against cancer in another city, this time in Chicago, where Matt lived,” said Andy. “Matt was only 18 months older than me. We grew up together and were teammates (sometimes co-conspirators) on all kinds of adventures as kids. We were even teammates on our local age group swim team. Since 2022, I’ve added the Swim Across America - Chicago open water swim to my annual swim calendar as well.”

In total, Andy’s teams in Houston and Chicago have raised more than $75,000 in the fight against cancer!

Through difficult times, Andy has found a welcoming and supportive community through Swim Across America. And Team Rae has grown to include friends and family whose lives have also been touched by cancer.    

“I have recruited my family members to join me as swimmers or volunteers, including my oldest brother Thad, and my father Gil, who have both had their own battles with cancer in recent years,” said Andy. “My mother Casey, sister Amy, my daughters, nieces, nephews and some friends, all come together to support this important and meaningful cause.”

Andy’s involvement with Swim Across America has brought waves of happiness as well! Last year, a former swim teammate, Kristen Paternina joined Team Rae in Houston. Andy and Kristen hadn’t seen each other for almost 30 years and reconnected at the event.  

“Kristen and I swam together on our local YMCA swim team in northeastern Ohio as teens,” noted Andy. “We hadn’t seen each other since the early 1990’s and we amazingly reconnected at Swim Across America - Houston in April 2022. We have been together ever since and just bought a house together this past summer.”

Andy Rieger and Kristen Paternina at the Swim Across America - Chicago Open Water Swim in 2022.

Established in 2019, Swim Across America – Houston has raised more than $340,000 for its local beneficiary The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and each year welcomes more swimmers and volunteers to help make waves to fight cancer.

Swim Across America is a national nonprofit organization founded in 1987 with its first open water event in Long Island Sound. Since that time, the nonprofit organization has raised more than $100 million to fight cancer. In its 36 years of making waves to fight cancer, more than 100,000 swimmers and 150 Olympians have swum the circumference of the earth three times, uniting a movement to fight cancer that has created a groundswell of support spanning all generations. Today, more than 24 communities hold open water swims and hundreds of charity pool swims each year, from Nantucket to under the Golden Gate Bridge, which support innovative cancer research, detection and patient programs. 

Swim Across America’s funding of clinical trials for patients helped contribute to four FDA approved life-saving immunotherapy cancer treatments: Yervoy, Opdivo, Tecentriq and Keytruda. In June of last year, a clinical trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering was published in The New England Journal of Medicine that showed a 100 percent success rate in treating patients in a phase 2 clinical trial for advanced rectal cancer with dostarlimab, an immunotherapy treatment produced by GlaxoSmithKline. The clinical trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering was funded by early-stage grant funding from Swim Across America. More than 60 scientific grants are funded each year and there are now ten dedicated Swim Across America Labs at major institutions including: Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, John Hopkins Medicine Dallas, Rush University Medical Center Chicago, Baylor Scott & White Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center in Dallas, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center New York, Infusion Center at Nantucket Cottage Hospital, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland and San Francisco, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, The Swim Across America Pediatric Research Lab at Columbia University Medical Center New York, and The Swim Across America Laboratory at Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine.

To learn more about the Swim Across America - Houston open water swim on October 14, or register to swim, donate or be a land or water volunteer, visit swimacrossamerica.org/houston.

Source: SAA

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