15-Year-Old Maya Merhige Completes 20 Bridges Swim for Cancer Research

15-Year-Old Maya Merhige Completes 20 Bridges Swim for Cancer Research

15-year-old Maya Merhige from Berkeley, California completed the New York Open Water’s (NYOW) marathon 20 Bridges swim. She finished the 28.5-mile swim in eight hours and 43 minutes.* The swim was undertaken to raise funds for cancer research in partnership with Swim Across America.

Merhige’s accomplishment places her as one of the youngest swimmers to complete the course. The record for the youngest swimmer to complete the event still stands with Cody Brammer, who was 12 when he achieved this feat in 1988. The youngest female title is held by Ida Elionsky, who swam the event in 1916 at the age of 13 according to NYOW.

This is not her first record-breaking achievement. Earlier this year, she became the youngest person to successfully swim the Kaiwi Molokai Channel, a 28-mile journey between the Hawaiian Islands of Molokai and Oahu, in 27 hours and 33 minutes, the youngest female to swim the 12-mile width, 10.8-mile Vikingsholm, and the 21-mile length courses of Lake Tahoe, earning her the Tahoe Triple Crown. She also holds records in the San Francisco Bay, becoming the youngest female to complete the Three Rocks course and the Angel Island swim.

Merhige’s motivation for these swims is personal.

“I swim for each and every single person that has ever been touched by cancer. Whether it’s for a patient, a doctor, a family member, or a friend, I swim for them all,” Merhige said in a Swim Across America press release. “Cancer is one of the most devastating things to go through, and I swim to honor all of those who use all of their strength to fight this disease. Although I swim for all of them, there is one specific friend whose spirit especially fuels me. Sam Hallward, a family friend of mine, passed away from brain cancer (DIPG) in December 2022 at the age of 12. He was one of the most outgoing and adventurous kids I knew, and I just know that he would have loved to be in all of the awesome places that I get to go while swimming.”

Maya Merhige

Her overall efforts have raised more than $60,000 for cancer research and patient care at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute and USCF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco Survivors of Childhood Cancer Program. She began using her swimming skills to help cancer research eight years ago, to support another friend, Susan Helmrich, a three-time cancer survivor.

Merhige’s latest feat around Manhattan came after a personal health scare earlier this year:

“The unique thing about this one is that my training has been greatly limited by a health scare I had 3 months ago that kept me out of the water for the first two months of my planned three month training season.  Last March,  I had what should have been a very minor ski crash, but I immediately got this excruciating abdominal pain.  After a visit with Ski Patrol, we made our way to the Emergency Room and late on a Saturday night, after a CT Scan, we were told that they had found a large tumor on my pancreas that had ruptured when I fell.  Fast forward to Tuesday of the following week, and after an ambulance ride to the UC Davis Medical Center and a stay in the ICU, they operated to remove the tumor.  I’m one of the lucky ones.  The grapefruit-size tumor was benign and with the exception of a massive scar across my stomach, I will be okay.  This brief but terrifying experience gave me and my family a small taste of what people go through when confronted with a terrifying medical situation.  It gave me even greater respect for what people with cancer experience, and made me even more committed to this effort.”

Maya Merhige

With her completion of the 20 Bridges and her previous accomplishment swimming the Catalina Channel, she’s now closer to accomplishing her quest to finish the Triple Crown of open swims. The final course – the English Channel is scheduled for next year.

You can learn more about her efforts to raise funds for cancer research and contribute to swimacrossamerica.org/maya. She has raised over $16,000 so far this year for Swim Across America SF, help her reach the incredible milestone of $25,000.

Photo credits: Swim Across America – San Francisco Facebook

Ahelee Sue Osborn Facebook

*pending ratification by NYOW