From the moment Grace Bunke was born, she never stopped moving.
The Marietta, Georgia, child was “super adventurous” according to her mom, Vicki Corte Bunke. By the time she was 11, she was a long-distance runner with a true zest for life. Then one day, everything changed.
That spring, Grace’s knee started to hurt. She forged on, eventually finishing a track event in tears of pain. That would be the last race Grace ever ran on her own two legs. When doctors examined her, they discovered osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that had already spread from her left femur to her lungs.
She went through several surgeries and treatments, but she never lost her drive to compete. While in rehab, Grace discovered a new love for swimming, which helped her recover both physically and mentally.
“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,” Vicki said. “She just had this attitude [of] we’re going to get through this and I can’t wait to get back.”
In the three years that Grace battled cancer, she nearly qualified for the Paralympic Games and eventually got involved in the Swim Across America program to raise money for childhood cancer research. Sadly, Grace’s cancer was tenacious. As she began to fade away, she had one request for her mother: to swim the races she’d planned to take on for Swim Across America in her honor.
Grace passed away in 2018, just one day before she would have turned 15 years old. Her grieving mother hit the pool shortly after, committing to 14 open water charity events with SAA — one for every year of Grace’s life.
“Grace also swam in 14 swim meets in her entire life,” Vicki said. “So we’ve labeled it appropriately: the Amazing Grace Swim Across America tour. And I have completed four of them. I have 10 to go.”
Vicki admits that she was never a strong swimmer before joining SAA, but Grace’s bravery gave her the courage to try new things. So far, she has raised over $121,000 for cancer research — and has a few more events to go!
Thinking of her daughter cheering for her from heaven gives Vicki all the strength she needs to keep moving forward.
“We feel like heaven is cheering us on,” she said. “You can’t have a better cheering section than heaven. Grace had the best laugh, the best smile, so I think she’s smiling… and not only cheering me on, but she’s showing up at each of the events in small ways.”
Vicki said the whole thing has been a “healing process” because Grace inspired so many people to make the most of their lives! What a powerful way to turn a terrible tragedy into an empowering experience. We’ll be rooting for you and Team Amazing Grace, Vicki!
Share this story to help Vicki raise more money to stamp out childhood cancer.
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