The Alcatraz Challenge

| July 23, 2012

by: Holly Sauer (newsletter 7/23/12)

About six months ago, my Dad asked if I wanted to do a mile and a half open water swim, with strong currents, in 53 degree water in California. Of course I immediately said no way. But after some strong convincing from my parents I finally agreed to swim the 2012 Alcatraz Challenge in San Francisco on Memorial Day weekend. So off to California we went. We arrived in San Francisco on Friday, a few days before the swim on Monday. We took part in the tour of Alcatraz so that we could get a glimpse of how far the swim really looked from the prison.
On Saturday afternoon we went to the pre race meeting where the race directors strongly stressed the importance of having your land marks on shore to swim toward. They also mentioned that the sharks we would be swimming with were the docile nurse sharks. Docile or not it didn’t make me feel better.

The night before the race we ate lots of pasta and drank lots of water. We went over our game plan once again went to bed early. I couldn’t wait to get the swim over with. The alarm went off early in our hotel room on Memorial Day. We checked our bags that would be waiting for us at the finish of the race and headed to Crissy Beach. A shuttle would pick us up and take us to the ferry. My dad and I carefully pulled on our wetsuits to our waists as we waited for our shuttle. I looked across the bay and saw how far away Alcatraz was. It once again looked farther than a mile and a half. When the shuttle finally arrived it took us over to the ferry that would drop us of off at Alcatraz. We could not swim from the island itself so we had to jump off the ferry. Almost as soon as we all got on the boat it left and so were my hopes of not swimming. When we were just about ready to jump off, the captain started a countdown, and once he said jump the crowd pushed to the doors. The original plan was to have three people getting ready to jump off the boat at one time, but the reality was there were more like six people jumping at the same exact time. The race coordinators told us that the jump off the ferry was about six or so feet to the water. I thought it looked at lot higher. There were just way too many people jumping off the ferry at the same time.

As soon as we hit the water we were instructed to swim away from the boat as fast as we could so we didn’t get jumped on by other participants. The water was a shock. I knew it was going to be cold but I didn’t imagine it would be as cold as it was. After a couple strokes and my initial panic subsided I started to sight. The choppy water was another challenge and for the first few feet I did swallow a lot of water but I soon got into a rhythm and for awhile things were going well.

At the pre-race meeting on Saturday the people running the race told us we had to sight off of Ft. Mason when we were going south. It was a red tiled building that was close to the water so it was pretty easy to see. If we turned west towards the finish line too soon, we would have been swept past the finish line since the current was so strong. Once we were close enough to the shore to turn west we had to sight off of the Palace of Fine Arts building. It was a huge building that was almost right behind the finish line. We knew we were almost done when the last three hundred yards got a couple of degrees colder. It was something the race directors informed us would happen. My lips, arms, fingers, and toes were so numb, and I couldn’t wait to get out of the water. We ended up a little bit to the left of the finish so we had to run down the beach to the finish line. Swimming the Alcatraz Challenge was quite an experience and one that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Category: 2012, Team Blog

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