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With mom in mind, Wesley Chapel youth swimmer raises money for cancer research

Wyatt Deaton, 11, will swim 2 miles in Swim Across America’s event Saturday in St. Petersburg.
Wyatt Deaton, 11 of Wesley Chapel, will swim for the second time in Swim Across America's annual event out of St. Petersburg. Deaton has raised more than $5,000 this year, which will benefit Johns Hopkins All-Children's Hospital.
Wyatt Deaton, 11 of Wesley Chapel, will swim for the second time in Swim Across America's annual event out of St. Petersburg. Deaton has raised more than $5,000 this year, which will benefit Johns Hopkins All-Children's Hospital. [ Swim Across America ]
Published May 6|Updated May 6

TAMPA — In April 2018, Wyatt Deaton’s world flipped on its head when his mother, Michelle, was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer.

Wyatt was in first grade at the time, but he understood the severity of Michelle’s diagnosis of secretory carcinoma.

“For Wyatt, being so young, I remember when I went to tell him, it’s like, how do you tell a 7-year-old that you’re going to lose all of your hair and you have cancer?” said Michelle, 49, who is now in remission.

A little more than three years ago, as Michelle was finishing her final surgeries, Wyatt started swimming competitively with the Tampa Elite Aquatics Manta Rays. Through the program, the Deaton family, who live in Wesley Chapel, connected with Swim Across America, an organization that focuses on raising money for cancer research through swimming.

Today, Wyatt, 11, joins other Tampa Bay area swimmers at North Shore Aquatic Complex in St. Petersburg for a Swim Across America event. Wyatt will swim 2 miles, his longest distance to date. (The event was supposed to be in open water, but because of expected inclement weather, it was moved to the complex.)

“This was a no-brainer for Wyatt,” Michelle said. “He was just like, ‘I got this. This is something I can do.’ And it was near and dear to my heart going through chemo and all that stuff with my cancer.”

Since he began fundraising for the organization in 2020, Wyatt has raised nearly $8,000. This year alone, he has raised more than $5,400, which will go to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

“I’m not just excited. I’m surprised about how much money I’ve raised and how many people, doctors that I’ve impacted coming in,” Wyatt said. “(This money) is saving lives.”

Wyatt Deaton poses in front of a Swim Across America banner. Since he began fundraising in 2020, he has raised more than $8,000.
Wyatt Deaton poses in front of a Swim Across America banner. Since he began fundraising in 2020, he has raised more than $8,000. [ Swim Across America ]

Initially, Wyatt wanted to swim 1 mile today, building on the half-mile he did last year. Wyatt’s coach had other ideas.

To be a WaveMaker — Swim Across America’s highest designation — participants pledge to raise $1,000 and typically swim the longest distance, said Brian Ahern.

“It’s the highest honor you can get as a fundraiser,” said Ahern, who has coached Wyatt for the past year and a half.

“Kids his age, I feel like these days, they like to set really low goals in case they don’t get them, and so I wanted him to set a real, real, big, scary goal that’s going to be tough and going to be hard and not something fun that you are going to enjoy doing (in the moment), but it will be a huge accomplishment if you are able to do that.”

The push was all Wyatt needed. In practice, Wyatt swims more than 2 miles at least four times weekly. He also has grown more confident in his breaststroke, his favorite stroke.

“I’m really good at it,” Wyatt said. “You’re like a little frog in the water.”

His family’s story has inspired his coach, who hasn’t personally been affected by cancer, but he has great admiration for everything Wyatt has accomplished.

“I see kids every day and how selfish some of those kids are,” Ahern said. “At that age, for (Wyatt) to be as unselfish as he is … (is) spectacular, and it’s eye-opening to see good things happening in the world with kids his age doing stuff like that.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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