HomeNovember 2011A Hug, High Five and Alcatraz

A Hug, High Five and Alcatraz

A hug and a high-five were the apex of the achievement.  As the youngest finisher in the ninth annual Alcatraz Swim with the Centurions, ten-year-old Orange County resident Adam Florman had just completed the mile-and-a-half swim, to come in 104th out of approximately 250 swimmers with a time of 47.20 minutes.
Adam and his Dad, Marty, had just finished the event together from Alcatraz Island to the San Francisco Aquatics Park, a swim that’s been quoted as “It’s a mile and half that tests the hardiest athletes.”
But Adam, full of energy, wasn’t through.  “After the hug when we got to shore, I ran ahead of my Dad and beat him to the finish line!  I even beat his time!  I felt really proud of myself.  And I’m ready for next year.  I got my medal and took all sorts of pictures.”
Adam was hailed on the winners’ podium as the youngest finisher of the day, standing beside Coach Pedro Ordenes (who has made the swim over 890 times – and counting.)
Adam was following a family tradition.  This was Dad Marty’s fifth event, which had earned him a third place trophy a few years back, and Grandpa Jerry had celebrated his 75th birthday with the swim four years ago.
The Swim with the Centurions earns its namesake from the many swimmers who have completed the feat over 100 times, some over 500.  It marks the swim that Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers, Clarence and John, attempted in their escape from Alcatraz prison on June 11, 1962.  But there is no record of their reaching land, nor were their bodies ever found.  Thirty-nine years later, on June 11, 2002, Ordenes and Gary Emich became the first to complete the Alcatraz crossing 100 times, inaugurating the Alcatraz 100 club now numbering hundreds of individuals. Proceeds of the entrants’ fees are donated to Marin Breast Cancer Watch and the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy.
To train, Adam worked out some five days a week, two hours a day between swim and water polo teams, averaging more than two miles a day.  The night before Alcatraz, Adam carbohydrate loaded with pasta and garlic bread.
The afternoon before the event, the swimmers attended an orientation meeting, where, according to Adam, “The director told us about the tides, which can be unpredictable.  ‘It depends how fast or slow you swim.’  He warned, ‘Don’t jump and look back. Just start swimming.’  He told us which route to take and gave us our electronic timing anklet bands.”
The morning of the event, at seven o’clock, Adam and Marty checked in at the Aquatic Park with the other participants.  The park consists of a large swimming area, enclosed by the Municipal Pier, the breakwater for Aquatic Park.  There is an approximate 150-foot opening to the bay.  The event is generally scheduled to cover “slack tide,” when the current neither enters nor leaves the bay.
They hiked en masse at the designated time to the tourism ferry, about a quarter mile away.  As anxiety mounted, they stood packed like sardines on the boat and waited, observing and speaking with their nervous comrades – young people to seniors, male and female, some in wet suits, others not.  (Marty has swum twice without a wet suit.)  Everyone was anxious to start swimming.  Each checked his equipment, adjusting his wet suit, cap and goggles.
“Finally,” said Marty, “we were off to the jumping-off point at the island, an approximately ten-minute, one-and-a half mile ride.  As we again waited, the boat rolled, correcting for the current moving towards Alcatraz; the motor revved up constantly.  Alcatraz Island loomed huge, appearing larger than imagined.  Suddenly the jump-off signal: a ‘time-to-go’ blast by the ferry’s horn, a countdown and a gunshot.  The engines were cut, and we jumped three at a time from one opening the six feet into the churning water.”
The sea around Alcatraz is turbulent, earning the moniker “the potato patch.”  With all the swimmers thrashing to get out of the way of those jumping, the area was now seething.
“Holding hands, Dad and I jumped together from the ferry,”said Adam.  “We landed right next to each other.  The water was so cold I didn’t think I could do it.”  [The water was 59 degrees.]  Dad said, ‘You’ll warm up, just keep going.’”
“We swam about 25 yards, then, doing a couple of back strokes, I looked back at Alcatraz.  And then I turned over and really started my swim.  The current was not so bad, but it was so dark you could barely see your fingertips.  I did freestyle.  We set a goal, aiming for two buildings, just behind the middle of the finish line.  About two-thirds of the way, I stopped to look at a Navy ship, the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline.  Then I looked at Alcatraz for the last time.”
Adam started competitive swimming when he was six and then took a break to play soccer and water polo.  At his first swim meet, the 25-meter freestyle, he finished last (by more than a quarter length) and, when he touched the wall, looked up and asked, “Did I win?”  Adam is pleased that his SOCAL swim coach was Vickie Oakland, who also coached Marty when he was Adam’s age almost 40 years earlier.
Adam started on the SOCAL splashball team when he was eight.  He now competes with the SOCAL swim team, plays on the 10 and Under mixed water polo team and has just joined the 12U team.  As a member of the SOCAL 10U-mixed Junior Olympics team, he has just been tapped to be one of the All Americans.
After four years, he finally quit soccer to focus solely on swimming and water polo, which he describes as, “my favorite sport of all time.  There’s nothing I would rather do than be with my family and play water polo.”
As one of the leaders of the 10U-mixed team, he said, “It’s a challenging sport.  I love it because it’s not easy; it’s a hard sport, but it is fun to improve and play.”  He likes the friendships he has made.
As a postscript to the event, the first place winner was Swedish Para-Olympic and World Champ paraplegic swimmer, Anders Olsson.

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