Thursday, December 11, 2014


Could I have been destined to one day swim from Alcatraz?

Could I simply have been wasting time and imagination yesterday, making connections where none exist?

Could be.

Hear me out.

Browsing one of my online news sources, (a hybrid of the the San Francisco Chronicle, more celebrity junk than news, really, but I digress), I came upon a new video feature called "This Forgotten Day in San Francisco History," with Michael Callahan.

In this week's episode, Callahan honored a moment 42 years ago Wednesday, when a British expatriate, Kenneth Crutchlow, swam from Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay to Aquatic Park.

It wasn't the first such crossing. Despite legends of a few prisoners escaping Alcatraz in the early 1960s, swims from Alcatraz are reported to have taken place as early as the 1920s.

Mr. Crutchlow, who became an adventurer of long-distance runs and trans-ocean rowing treks, made news of a sort that day because he swam solo from Alcatraz apparently without any training or acclimation to the 50-degree water. It took him an hour-and-a-half, to emerge into 38-degree air: Very cold, for the California coast.

Foolhardy doesn't begin to describe his feat. Hypothermic is more like it, even deadly, considering his lack of preparation.

Here's where the magic happens. Michael Callahan could have said anything else in his video — the history of Alcatraz swims, a bit about Mr. Crutchlow's adventurous spirit, the effects of cold water on the body — but he says this:

"Was there nothing better to do in San Francisco this December Sunday? How about a Niners' game? They were playing Atlanta at Candlestick, and they won!"

I know this — because I was there! On Dec. 10, 1972, the same day Mr. Crutchlow swam, I was attending my one and only NFL game. In fifth grade, I lived for the 49ers, before I realized what football could do to knees. My Aunt Patti's husband Jim had given my dad and me tickets, for seats just below the concrete rim of the bowl that is Candlestick Park (at least until it's torn down soon).

It turns out the famous howling winds of Candlestick Point, somehow undetected in the construction of the stadium, catch on the rim of the superstructure and roar without relent just inside the lip, an icy freight train going nowhere fast. There my dad and I sat, leaning into the cold, cold blasts, watching the little figures on the green rectangle far below.

Mr. Crutchlow, meanwhile, was emerging bare-chested from relatively warm water into the hard chill of the air. 

Based on our understanding of the game, Dad and I made decent guesses about which little red figure far below was quarterback John Brodie, and which may have been wide receiver Gene Washington. All else was a blur of red and white on green.

That's just one connection. Wait, there's more.

My dad, I learned after his death, was a strong open-water swimmer. My mom told him about his exploits, how effortless he made it seem.

Bim-bam-boom! Don't you see?! Thirty-eight and a half years after that 49ers win against the Atlanta Falcons, I'm out in the chilly water of San Francisco Bay, swimming from Alcatraz. Only the water isn't chilly because I'd been swimming almost daily in chillier water of Lake Natoma where I live.

No disrespect to Mr. Crutchlow, but I finished in 48 minutes. Not fast, but better than an hour-and-a-half.


Yeah, probably.

In other news, this urgent email arrived:
"Congratulations ,

You were chosen as a potential Executive for the 2014 Australian Executives
Registry of Distinguished Professionals and Executives.

Our candidates are approved based upon the profile information they provide. Upon final confirmation, you will be listed among thousands of accomplished members in the WorldWide Executives Registry of Distinguished Individuals."
It comes from someone named Elvis Dalton, so it's authentic. Elvis forgot to greet me by name, but small matter.

Though I knew my parents had been keeping secrets from me, this is a doozy! How, in all my years, did they not tell me I'm Australian?! And an executive?! A potentially distinguished executive!

To think of all the board meetings and strategy sessions I've missed! The income I should have earned! Executive-level games of golf at the club in the dead of winter, which would be in the middle of summer Down Under!

All I have to do is click here to accept my candidacy. Maybe I should pass; I've missed so much already.

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