Maya Merhige

16-year-old Maya Merhige to swim English Channel

American swimmer Maya Merhige hopes to be one of the youngest to complete the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming, while raising funds for Swim Across America

Maya Merhige is just 16 years old, but she has spent more than half of her life conquering open water marathon swims to raise funds and awareness for cancer research with the nonprofit Swim Across America. This year, she’s taking on one of the most iconic and challenging swims in the world: the English Channel. The English Channel swim (20.5 miles or 33 km) is the third leg of the coveted Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming and will make Maya one of the youngest swimmers in history to accomplish this feat. Maya plans on swimming the English Channel between July 10 and 20 2024, depending on when conditions are the most favourable.

Maya earned her stripes toward the Triple Crown by also completing the Catalina Channel and Manhattan 20 Bridges swims. In September 2021, at 14 years old, Maya broke the record as the youngest woman in history to successfully swim the 20-mile Catalina Channel, finishing in 10 hours and 48 minutes. In 2023, at 15 years old, Maya was one of the youngest swimmers to successfully complete the 28.5-mile 20 Bridges swim around Manhattan Island, which took her 8 hours and 43 minutes.

An impressive record

Maya also holds the world record as the youngest woman to swim the 21-mile length, 12-mile width, and 10.8-mile Vikingsholm courses of Lake Tahoe, earning her the Tahoe Triple Crown. She also became the youngest swimmer in the world to successfully swim the grueling 26-mile Kaiwi Molokai Channel, between the Hawaiian Islands of Molokai and Oahu, which she completed in 27 hrs and 33 mins. She also holds a record for the longest duration and joined the ranks of the “24-Hour Club” with the 108th longest non-stop open water swim ever.

“This year is special for many reasons,” notes Maya Merhige. “This year marks my ninth year participating with Swim Across America. With the generous support of family, friends and others, I have been able to raise more than $90,000 to fight cancer, which has gone directly to the Swim Across America – San Francisco beneficiary UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals. This past year I’ve also endured some health battles of my own, and my personal experience has made me even more inspired and passionate about supporting UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals. I’m also going to be a senior in high school this fall and next year will look very different for me as I will leave home to start college. So this is the year to swim the English Channel!”

An early start

Maya’s journey began at just nine years old with the Swim Across America – San Francisco open water swim when she joined Team Susan Survives!, for her dear family friend and three-time cancer survivor Susan Helmrich. The San Francisco swim raises funds for pediatric cancer research, supporting the work of Dr. Julie Saba and Dr. Robert Goldsby at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals, which has been a leader in pediatric cancer research and treatment for decades, significantly increasing cure rates and improving the future for thousands of patients worldwide. UCSF’s advances in treating leukemia and other cancers have contributed to the overall five-year survival rate for childhood cancer rising to nearly 85% today, up from 10% in the 1970s. Despite this progress, childhood cancer is still a challenge and can have lasting effects on patients and their families. UCSF continues to study these long-term consequences. The partnership between Swim Across America and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals is essential for advancing cancer research and care.

“Serving my second year as president of the Swim Across America – San Francisco Junior Advisory Board, my goal is to raise $35,000 this year with the English Channel swim and the San Francisco swim, which will bring the total I’ve been able to raise to more than $125,000 to support cancer research for UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals,” said Maya. “I’d especially like to thank Dr. Julie Saba, director of the Swim Across America Research Lab at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, for her continued support throughout my own health challenges. For that, I am forever grateful and inspired to raise even more for Swim Across America and UCSF through my swimming.”

Maya’s own medical challenges began in March 2023, when after suffering a ski crash, a benign tumor on her pancreas was discovered. Suffering from chronic pain since, she has a newfound empathy for pediatric cancer patients who endure endless procedures and appointments.

Despite these challenges, Maya remains undeterred. “I’ve not been able to swim for the past month due to the pain I was experiencing, so I’m now having to re-train for the English Channel,” she shared. “This is another one of those unique challenges this year, but I am determined to succeed.”

To learn more about Maya swimming the English Channel and to make a donation to Swim Across America, visit

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