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Alcatraz to Africa – Dara Colleary survived the sharks!

Alcatraz to Africa – Dara Colleary survived the sharks!

In a recent article I made mention of Dara Colleary and his wife Sara who during their visit to Sierra Leone met with Pastor Michael Kanu and members of Zion Church in Bo . Dara, who has a civil engineering background, took upon himself the challenge to raise money to help build a vocational training center where members of the community can learn life and healthcare skills in order to grow and become self sufficient.  (Photo:  Dara and Sara Colleary)

For Dara to meet his goal of raising $10,000, one of his recent challenges was to complete the annual 1.25 mile cold-water swim in the Bay of San Francisco, from Alcatraz to the Aquatic Park!

Thankfully Dara survived the sharks and with his fundraising endeavors he has so far collected donations to the tune of $8,405 as recorded on his blog site Alcatraz to Africa, from family, friends, and well-wishers – he is well on the way to seeing his mission come true.

We will follow Dara on his challenge ahead and wish him every success in fulfilling his dream for the Bo community.

Below is Dara’s blog on the event, together with photographs of what looked like a very chilly day! 

The swim from the Rock

At approximately 7:15am on September 4th, 2011 I jumped into the 62-degree waters of the San Francisco Bay to begin the 1.25 mile swim from the island of Alcatraz to the shore of the City. 160 like minded open water swimmers began a race that took me just under 48 minutes.

Nervous.... but then I looked at the guy with the glasses and felt better...

A ferry transported us to a starting line just off the shore of Alcatraz. Three at a time we took the 6’ jump into the murky waters, felt the rush of the cold water fill our wet suits and off we went.

During the first 1/3 of the race, the tide was not quite as challenging as I had anticipated. The biggest problem was when I went to take a breath the same time I got hit by a wave. Under normal circumstances this is something you can easily overcome however in a race you cannot afford to pass up a much needed breath.

Still swimmin'....

For the rest of the race the waves, higher and rougher than what I was used to, made it difficult for me to sight. The most important part of this is to try and sight when you are at the top of a wave. Before I got too far away from the island, I didn’t forget to take a moment to turn around and enjoy the breathtaking view of Alcatraz from the water. As I got closer to shore, the scenery changed to the spectacular San Francisco skyline.

In the pre-race meeting, we were told we’d be starting during an ebb current, which would carry us out toward the ocean. To get to shore, you had to swim through a narrow opening into Aquatic Park; if you missed it, you’d have to backtrack and swim against the current to get in. In fear of overshooting the park you have to compensate for what the current was going to do. Over compensate and you are swimming farther than needed, under compensate and you will miss the entrance to Aquatic Park. Watching other swimmers and keeping a close eye on the shore I was fortunate enough to make it. Another ¼ mile to the beach and the race was over where I was met by my wife, family and friends. I was pleased by my time of 47:22 which put me 70th of 160.

It was an amazing experience one that I would recommend to anyone who likes the taste of salt water, the fear of sharks and the opportunity to swim in a bay that has some of the best sights in the world.

1st place Anders Olsson

Although this experience was exciting and challenging one of the things that I will always remember was the man I met who ended up coming in first place. Sara and I arrived in San Francisco three days prior to the swim in order for me to practice in the San Francisco Bay. As I was anxiously getting ready I noticed a man next to me who began to get ready as well. We greeted each other and after speaking for a few moments I was comforted to discover that this was his first time doing the Alcatraz swim and that he too was a little nervous. We talked about swimming and he explained that he had flown from Sweden specifically for this swim. I was quite impressed by this but became more impressed by all the other activities that he did in his native country. Anders was an avid skier and biker but had also won 2 gold medals for swimming at the Paralympics in Beijing, Anders was paralyzed from the waist down. Anders was not only a marvelous swimmer but was also a strong advocate for rights for those with disabilities in Sweden. It was truly impressive for me to see how someone who was faced with such an incredible challenge in his life had achieved so much. It was not only a great honor to have swam with Anders but also a humbling experience that I will hold forever.

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