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October 12, 2004 > Fremont Teens Escape From Alcatraz

Fremont Teens Escape From Alcatraz

by Praveena Raman

Fremont 16 year olds Rachel Yeung and Stephanie Tsuyemura, both lifeguards at Club Sports, participated in the IX annual Alcatraz Invitational on October 2nd, 2004. The Alcatraz Invitational is a swim meet sponsored by the South End rowing club in San Francisco. The invitational attracts hundreds of swimmers from all over the world who race from Alcatraz to the shore in cold chilly water, disproving the historical theory that swimming to shore was impossible. The invitational is open to people aged 19 and over and even 70 year old adults have participated in this meet. A few swimmers 18 and under are allowed to participate in this daring event.

Rachel and Stephanie were two of the under 18 that participated this year. Both of them had started swimming from a tender age of about 5 years and had started competing in meets around the ages of 11-12, when they had joined the Club Sports Flying Fish team. It was here that they met some of the lifeguards who had previously participated in the Alcatraz Invitational. "We were excited to hear their experience," said Stephanie. "Both Rachel and I wanted to do it but Mark [coach Mark Lawrence] thought we were too young and asked us to wait a few years." They were just 14 at that time. "Finally we got our chance this year," chimed in Rachel.

Both the girls started preparing for the meet in July. Earlier this summer they participated in the Junior Olympics. As part of the training both of them went to the South End club and swam for an hour in the bay to get used to the cold water. Rachel, unfortunately, had fallen ill and could only practice one time in the bay while Stephanie did it once more. As part of the training Stephanie had also participated in a meet at Lake Berryessa to for a non-swimming pool experience. As her daughter got ready for the "real" experience, Cindy Tsuyemura was a little worried having heard of sharks and strong currents in the bay. "I was apprehensive but it was something that she really wanted to do," said Cindy. "And Mark had assured me it would be alright." Both Rachel and Stephanie had also decided to not wear a wetsuit for the swim. They competed wearing regular swim suits.

On the day of the event they boarded a ferry with 600 other swimmers bound for Alcatraz. Upon arrival, the 600 swimmers were asked to jump off the ferry in batches and swim 1.2 miles to the shore. The swimmers were competing in different divisions, Rachel and Stephanie competed against 69 swimmers in the non-wetsuit category. When asked if they were concerned about sharks when they were jumping off the ferry Stephanie replied "No, Mark had already reassured us and told us that with 600 swimmers in the water the sharks will not be anywhere near us." Rachel, continuing the thought, said "It was quite safe. There was a boat following us in case we needed help and also Mark swam with us to keep an eye on us." All the swimmers wore a black anklet with a chip that timed their swim. Once in the 60 degree water, the girls swam quickly to the shore keeping close together. Rachel finished first in the 18 and under category with a time of 40.05 minutes, and Stephanie followed her closely finishing second with a time of 40.08 minutes. They placed 25th and 26th in the overall in their category. Once on shore, they quickly went to the hot showers to warm up. In the water the girls were so focused on the race that they did not feel the cold. "There were people who were near hypothermia," said Rachel. "But we did fine."

Stephanie, a Junior at Irvington High School, and a member of the school's water polo team said "I enjoyed myself thoroughly and would like to do it again." Asked if the Olympics figured in their future plans, Rachel, also a Junior at Mission San Jose High school, and a member of the school's swim team, replied "Right now I have small goals to achieve. I do have a far off dream to swim in the Olympics some day." Maybe that day will come sooner than they think.

 
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