San Francisco swimmers take a cold plunge for a good cause

Swimmers in San Francisco took a cold swim Saturday morning to raise money for cancer research. 

Swim Across America's 1.5 mile San Francisco bay swim began at Little Marina Green in San Francisco at 9:30 a.m. 

200 swimmer and 100 volunteers took part in the event which benefited UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals in San Francisco and Oakland. Over the past 17 years, the annual event has raised in more than $6 million for the two hospitals.

This year the San Francisco Swim Across America has raised more than $500,000 of their $600,000 goal.

Nathaniel Berger, co-event director for Swim Across America San Francisco said five Olympic swimmers joined cancer survivors, first-time participants, and longtime supporters to help raise money. 

The San Francisco Fire Department sent the swimmers off with a water canon salute from the fire boat.

"The cold is challenging," Susan Helmrich, a former director of the event, and a three-time cancer survivor participating in the swim.

SEE ALSO: 14 year old breaks swimming record in Lake Tahoe

When she was 21-years-old, Helmrich was diagnosed with vaginal cancer. At 42, she fought lung cancer. When she was 53-years-old she was treated for pancreatic cancer.

Helmrich has participated in Swim Across America for nearly 15 years, and heads "Team Susan Survives!" Helmrich, 66, said her team of close to 30 swimmers has raised $100,000 this year, and collectively brought in a million dollars since they started.

"I feel like I'm one of the lucky ones, and the reason I raise so much is because I want to give back," Helmrich said. "I want to give back, and hope that anybody who gets a cancer diagnosis can live a full life like I've been able to live."

Swim Across America is a national nonprofit that started in Long Island 35 years ago. Now, the organization hosts 24 open water swims across the U.S., raising millions of dollars to support crucial cancer research. 

Swim Across America has contributed to four FDA approved life-saving immunotherapy treatments, and funds more than 60 scientific grants each year.

."I feel so grateful," Helmrich said. "A day like today is a gift. I'm like living in the gravy, this is so great that I made it this far."