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Cadets conquer Alcatraz swim
Cadets swim the 2.2-mile "Escape from Alcatraz" route from Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay to the mainland Sept. 26, 2010. Thirteen cadets took part in the event in hopes of establishing an open-water swimming club at the Air Force Academy. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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13 cadets conquer Alcatraz swim

Posted 10/26/2010   Updated 10/26/2010 Email story   Print story


10/26/2010 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- A group of 13 cadets swam from Alcatraz to the San Francisco mainland Sept. 26 in hopes of creating an open-water swimming club at the Academy.

Completing the swim were Cadets 2nd Class Daniel Nelson and Rachel Reeder, Cadets 3rd Class Nick Adagio, Monica Bray, Corey Davis, Ryan Hogan, Connor Niebrugge, Kelsey Pilcher and Michael Wong and Cadets 4th Class Gabby Aranda, Christian Brechbuhl, Jacob Krimbill and Robert Wilson.

To prepare for the swim, the group trained at Twin Lakes, located in Colorado's high country between Leadville and Buena Vista. Twin Lakes sits at an altitude of more than 10,000 feet and is anything but toasty.

The cadets arrived at Pier 39 at 6:15 a.m. the day of the swim.

"When we were on the boat heading out to the island, the prison was half covered in fog," Cadet Davis said. "It looked exactly like a prison you would see in a horror movie. It was a little intimidating."

They received a prerace briefing from Pedro Ordenes, the first Beagle Strait swimmer, about how the strong San Francisco Bay currents work. He described how important it is to listen and learn about the currents because if you didn't take them into account, you could be swept out under the famous Golden Gate Bridge. Mr. Ordenes also briefed everyone on the recent sighting of two 8-plus-foot sharks were recently seen in San Francisco Bay.

The swimmers donned their suits and rode a boat to Alcatraz Island, which once listed Al Capone among its prisoners. The boat captain circled the island and gave the swimmers a short tour, after which the cadets, plus one Water World Swimming Club coach, jumped into the 61-degree waters in nothing but a suit, cap and pair of goggles.

"All the cold water training that we did in Twin Lakes paid off once we reached Alcatraz," Cadet Adagio said. "Being in 60-degree water without a wetsuit and also fighting the currents was a huge accomplishment. I think the entire team exceeded all our expectations and performed amazingly."

Cadet Davis got an unexpected escort from a Bay Area native.

"When I jumped into the bay and started to swim, I noticed a seal swimming playfully all around me like he wanted me to relax and have some fun," the cadet recalled. "It was one of the coolest things I have ever done. The seal swam with me all the way to the shore."

The whole group finished in less than 35 minutes thanks in part to mentor and officer in charge Col. Tim Lawrence.

"In my mind this race was a great introduction to open water swimming for all the cadets who participated," said Cadet Hogan, the event organizer. "The amazing accomplishment of swimming from an island once thought impossible to swim from was a great experience, and the skill of being comfortable in dangerous bodies of water could someday save a pilot's life -- or anyone's, for that matter. I hope this will be the stepping stone to creating an open-water swimming club here."

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