Tuesday, August 07, 2007

UPDATE: Alcatraz Challenge fatality

I want to begin with an apology. When I read of the death of a swimmer at the Alcatraz Challenge I presumed the swimmer; whose name is Sally, was a swimmer who may not have been prepared for how hard the swim is. I did not state that implicitly but perhaps it came across tacitly. It was never my intention to blame the victim and I should have rephrased my comments without associating them with a Alcatraz tragedy. My comments did offend those that knew her and I want to apologize.

In my post I primarily blamed pop-culture media who frequently feature human interests story about dogs, children or even naked people making the swim and I stately bluntly that this sort of reporting inspires people to attempt an Alcatraz swim when in fact they are summarily not qualified. I have seen several examples of this each year.

The swimmer who passed at Alcatraz last Sunday was named, Sally, and she was definitely qualified to do this swim. I am going to post a letter that Scott Davis, a friend of hers sent me:


Sally was an original member of our 'Y' Master's swim team and we had been swimming 10,000 - 12,000 yards per week in our practices for more than a year. I believe she had also been invited to compete in some Senior Olympic events in butterfly and had also completed the swim leg in an Olympic distance triathlon in open water earlier this year.

I was part of her group that swam the Alcatraz Challenge and the conditions were horrible. We don't know what happened, but out of respect for Sally, please don't make a comment unless you know what you are talking about. "

Scott, I apologive to you and anyone else who was offended by my post.


Charlie said...

I don't mean to be insensitive, but does anyone know the cause of death? I would love to try the Alcatraz swim within the next year or so, but I want to be sure I know what I am getting myself into. I trained to swim the English Channel about 12 years ago, but I failed on account of the cold (I was a skinny teenager at the time). The following year there was a death from someone trying to do the swim from hypothermia. Suffice to say I gave up open water swimming for a while. I am about 30 lbs heavier these days and don't struggle so much with the cold, but I was just wondering how cold is it up there?

Tony Austin said...

You have to be able to swim a 1.5 miles total. Per Sharkfest: This swim is not for novices. "...This event is for experienced open-water swimmers only. You should be able to swim one mile comfortably in a pool in under 40 minutes. ..."

Of course doing some open water swims as part of your training is vital. I am doing open water training once a week with Anthony and it has made all the difference. I have little apprehension when I am in the water and I can focus throughout a race and my spotting and directional abilities are much better as a result.

There is a wetsuit and a non-wetsuit division. If it is your first time, I recommend a wetsuit. (Anthony did Sharkfest his first time without a wetsuit and placed second in his division so what do I know? Note, Anthony is an accomplished swimmer.)

Get a wetsuit that fits you. If it is too tight you won't breathe well. When I fat that would happen to me.

Lose the weight. your external obliques miss you.

Go to the doctor and make sure your heart and numbers are good but I bet you knew all of the above.

Charlie said...

Thanks for the advice.

I did the 2 mile Dwight Crum Pier to Pier on Sunday in 49:30 (result just confirmed on the website!) so I think I can handle the distance. I try to get in an open water swim at least twice a month myself. I try to get at least 10,000 yards a week in at the pool, depending on work commitments.

I am not a huge fan of wetsuit swims, although I do have one. How cold are we talking? Less than 50 degrees? If so, then yes I am wearing one!!

I am only 195 lbs and at 6'2" I don't feel overweight. I mean I could shed a few, but I kind of like the couple of extra pounds for warmth. I was a VERY skinny teenage, thus why I am 30 lbs heavier now.

Tony Austin said...

We are the same height, I am 8 pounds heavier, and you beat me by a 1:10 :-P

You don't need any advice. The water temp is about 57

Anonymous said...

Based on your swim experience and current mileage, I would say you are more than qualified. But, as far as the cold goes, I recommend doing some cold open water swims before attempting Alcatraz without a wetsuit. I have swum it 4 times, all without a wetsuit with water temps in the high 50s, and you sound like an overall faster swimmer than me. I am 150 lbs and 5'8" low body fat, so not much insulation. My biggest advice would be to prepare for at least twice the distance and train in rough open water cold conditions if possible. Alcatraz has been different everytime I have done it. The currents are always different and can make the swim much further than 1.5 miles. Up to 2 miles in some cases. I did the swim on the day Sally died, and the conditions were pretty nasty. If you are looking for a good organized swim, I would recommend the SERC and sign up early for next year's swim. A super fun swim with a great group of people. Enjoy and be safe!