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'Team Alcatraz' to raise funds for drowning prevention

Mar. 5, 2007

BARTLETT LAKE - It's late winter in the Valley and, though people are enjoying the lovely weather, and the African daisies are beginning to flower, it's a little early for a dip in the water - unless you happen to be part of Team Alcatraz.

The team plans to plunge April 25 into the waters off Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay to raise as much as $100,000 for drowning-prevention programs.

Members spend parts of each weekend in wet suits, diving into the frigid waters of local lakes. They are preparing for the challenge by allowing their feet, hands and face to go numb during hourlong swims. advertisement

Swim coach Joe Zemaitis plans to lead Team Alcatraz, an offshoot of his Phoenix-area swim club known as Swim Neptune, to San Francisco to swim nearly 1.4 miles from the cliffs of the former penitentiary at Alcatraz, now a national park, to the shores of San Francisco.

Ian Biggane, 10, of Paradise Valley, is one of about 40 swimmers ages 8 to 18 attempting to cross the choppy Alcatraz waters.

"I am not worried about him," said his mother, Denise Biggane."It's in his character to push himself farther so that he always knows that he will do well in life."

The Alcatraz swimmers were inspired by an example set last year by a young Valley swimmer.

On May 22, then 7-year-old Braxton Bilbrey, also a member of Zemaitis' Swim Neptune swim team, became the youngest swimmer to make the crossing between Alcatraz and San Francisco.

Accompanied by Zemaitis, Braxton's swim raised $13,000 in donations for drowning-prevention programs and focused national and international attention on childhood drowning.

Organizers of this year's swim hope to raise as much as $100,000 in donations for the Foundation for Aquatic Safety and Training or FAST, an Arizona-based, non-profit drowning prevention group.

Money received by FAST will be used to fund learn-to-swim programs for high-risk kids, teach cardiopulmonary resuscitation to parents, and promote other water safety efforts.

Training for the group is taking place in regular pool workouts and in a series of open-water swims. So far, they've swum in Bartlett and Saguaro lakes, where the water temperatures dipped into the low 50s.

Open-water exposure is necessary to ensure a comfort level that will allow the swimmers to be successful in the large swells and possible choppy conditions of San Francisco Bay.

Each of the younger swimmers will be accompanied on the Alcatraz swim by a strong adult swimmer, as well as several escort boats.

For more information or to make a donation, contact Zemaitis at joe@swimneptune .com.
Reproduced with permission from:
The Arizona Republic
By Suzanne Starr
©
Copyright 2007 Arizona Republic

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