By Clare S. Richie
When the annual Atlanta Open Water Swim fundraiser for local cancer centers takes place at Lake Lanier in September, Dr. Julie Granger will be in the water making sure the swimmers don’t injure themselves. She’s no stranger to injuries – or cancer.
Swim Across America (SAA) will hold the 4th annual Atlanta Open Water Swim “Making Waves to Fight Cancer” on Sept. 17 at Lake Lanier. The national nonprofit will bring together Olympians, more than 500 regional swimmers of all ages, and volunteers to raise funds for cancer research.
Since 2011, SAA Atlanta has raised over $531,000 for the Aflac Cancer Center, which cares for more than 7,300 children annually, and another $100,000 to the Winship Cancer Center.
New this year, students and swim teams from Intown schools including Pace, Lovett, Druid Hills and Westminster will serve on the inaugural SAA Junior Board. With the guidance of Olympian Amanda Jo Weir and Granger, the students will raise awareness and funds within their school communities.
“I love working with teenagers,” Granger said. “Helping young people succeed is a vision that drives my personal and professional life.”
Granger trained and competed year-round at Atlanta’s Dynamo Swim Club for 14 years and went on to the NCAA Division 1 Varsity program at Duke University. After the best swim season of her life sophomore year, a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery derailed her swimming career.
“I have suffered tremendous hardship and the highest triumphs,” she reflected, “but one thing remained constant – swimming.”
In college and grad school Granger continued to coach swimmers, first at Duke University and then at Emory University, where she attended physical therapy school.
With a hardwired mentality of coach, teacher and leader – Granger redefined her swimming aspirations. Her rehabilitation opened her eyes to a career in physical therapy that would give her more one-on-one time with patients.
“I re-evaluated my swimming goals and have fulfilled my dream to work with swimmers,” Granger said. “I not only help young athletes improve, but also educate parents and coaches on how to avoid injury in the first place.”
In her business, Performance Rehabilitation & Integrative Sports Medicine (PRISM), she provides a holistic approach to health and wellness.
Despite her professional work with swimmers, she had been reluctant to dive back into swimming herself.
In 2013, Granger started to follow SAA on social media and wanted to participate in an open water swim while supporting others in the fight against cancer. To do that would mean overcoming her fear of re-injury. She decided to go for it.
“For two years, I was very patient and took baby steps until swimming finally felt great again. And then it was taken from me. Again. This time ironically by the disease that I was swimming to fight against for others,” Granger shared.
Last summer, Granger fell sick with daily high fevers, night sweats, weight loss and a dry cough. A biopsy of a grapefruit size mass in her lung revealed a rare form of sarcoma cancer, inflammatory myofibroblastic tumor.
A Northside Hospital sarcoma specialist prescribed Granger an innovative type of chemotherapy and within 48 hours of her first treatment all of her symptoms went away. By May 2016, her tumor shrank by 80 percent.
“It’s almost shocking how good I feel,” Granger reported the week before her recent surgery to remove the tumor.
She spent 10 days at Northside Hospital having the tumor removed and her chest wall reconstructed. She must still undergo radiation and more chemo, but she plans to get back into the pool as soon as possible, citing Swim Across America as her inspiration.
“In the process of overcoming the disease, I fell completely head over heels in love with swimming again. It came back to me when I had the opportunity to get involved with Swim Across America,” Granger added.
“She’s getting back into the pool to celebrate others who are staying active, strong and making waves to fight their cancer,” SAA Atlanta Event Director Megan Melgaard shared.
“Your goals and dreams never have to go away, even when they are seemingly or physically impossible to achieve. Keep them in your heart, be patient and you’ll find a way to achieve them,” Granger said.