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Mom swims across America to honor her 14-year-old daughter who died of cancer: 'She inspired us'

Vicki Bunke will swim in 14 open water charity events with Swim Across America to honor the 14 years Grace lived.

Mom swims across America to honor her 14-year-old daughter who died of cancer: 'She inspired us'
Image source: Instagram/saaswim Facebook/GraceSAATour2021

A Georgia mother is on a cross-country swimming mission to honor her teenage daughter who died of cancer. Vicki Bunke, 52, was claustrophobic and doesn't enjoy putting her face in the water but is inspired by her daughter, Grace, to be more adventurous. Vicki will be swimming in 14 open water charity events with Swim Across America to honor the 14 years Grace lived, according to PEOPLE. "We feel like heaven is cheering us on," said Vicki. "You can't have a better cheering section than heaven." Grace died three years after being diagnosed with cancer. Vicki cited her daughter as her inspiration and said that Grace had no fear as cancer overtook her body.



 


"She was super adventurous," said Vicki, 52, explains of her daughter. "We always said she was always going too fast, too far and too high. We never had to encourage her to stay engaged in life," she adds. "Even during her cancer treatments and through her illness, we were still the ones who had to set limits with her." Grace was an athlete and an avid runner from a very young age. When she was just 11 years old, she started to feel the first effects of cancer. "She started having knee pain in the spring," recalled Vicki. "And she kept pushing through the pain until finally, she ended up running at her last — what turned out to be her last — track event on her two natural legs, kind of crossing the finish line in tears."



 

Later, she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that caused a large tumor in her left femur, and had metastasized to her lungs. Grace started chemotherapy and underwent 18 rounds of it and several surgeries. She also had rotationplasty, which used her backward foot to replace the movement of her knee. "It was the best choice for her because it allowed her unlimited ability to be physical in the world," said Vicki.



 

Running again was going to take a while, so she decided to turn to swimming to regain her fitness. She took to the water like a duck and it soon became her new passion, even making the paralympic team. "There's something different about being in the water versus running around a track. So I think that it really kind of gave her spiritual kind of emotional strength," said Vicki. "She just had this attitude [of] we're going to get through this and I can't wait to get back."



 

Even as Grace was undergoing treatment, she carried on with life with the same vigor. "She went to school anytime she wasn't in the hospital... so she made it easy on us going through that." She also signed up for Swim Across America (SAA) program, determined to help raise money to beat cancers. Her inspirational journey was featured in WaveMakers, a six-part docu-series about SAA. It's not easy for Vicki to revisit the docu-series. "Those videos are hard to watch, but also very meaningful to watch, as well," said Vicki. "It's difficult at the same time. It just brings back so many great memories."



 

 

Before passing away in 2018, Grace asked Vicki to finish the upcoming SAA swimming event on her behalf. Not only did Vicki complete the SAA event, but she hasn't stopped swimming for charity since. "I committed to swimming in 14 open water charity events with Swim Across America to honor the 14 years at Grace lived on this earth," said Vicki. "Grace also swam in 14 swim meets in her entire life. So we've labeled it appropriately: the Amazing Grace Swim Across America tour." She is set to swim in various cities across the country including Chicago, Denver, St. Louis, Seattle, Dallas, Baltimore, and Atlanta. For the 52-year-old, the swimming event has been a healing process.



 

 

The four swimming events she has completed have already raised $84,000, and she has ten more events to go. Throughout the whole journey, Grace has been her inspiration. "Grace always remained hopeful in what most people would be considered kind of a hopeless situation. And that's really what she left for all of us and how she inspired all of us... how to live your life and make the most of it," said Vicki.



 

You can donate to the charity here.

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