Just when you think you're tough enough


Triathletes enjoy shark-free swim at Alcatraz Triathlon

Swim at your own risk (from sharks). Photo from SFGate
Swim at your own risk (from sharks). Photo from SFGate

Triathlons comes with risks of its own, but a shark attack? Quite unheard of unless you’re racing at the Alcatraz triathlon!

Wearing Speedos, bikinis or nothing at all, athletes competing in the opening swim of the annual Dolphin Club Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon emerged from the bay unbitten Saturday, which was a bigger deal than ever this year.

After video released last week showed a great white shark attacking a sea lion just off Alcatraz, the incident-free swim was a relief to event organizers.

“The shark incident is on our minds — I think it’s on everyone’s minds,” said John Nogue, a swim commissioner for the Dolphin Club, told the group of 50 participants an hour before the triathlon.

“You want to stay together as much as possible.”

The concerns came after a tourist recorded the rare sighting of a great white shark jumping out of the water to feast on a sea lion just a few feet off of Alcatraz.

For Saturday’s event, the Dolphin Club and the neighbouring South End Rowing Club decided to condense the pack of swimmers from east to west, providing a safer, more inclusive space for competitors on the first leg of the journey, which was followed by a 12-mile bike race across the Golden Gate Bridge to Mill Valley and then a 14-mile run on the notorious Dipsea Trail.

Pilot guides help keep swimmers together and spot hazards. Photo from SFGate
Pilot guides help keep swimmers together and spot hazards. Photo from SFGate

Pilot guides added

Increased safety also included adding pilot guides in boats to help the swimmers navigate the 1.5-mile trip from Alcatraz Island to the Aquatic Park beach between the swimming clubs.

One of the pilots, Charles Cross, said his job was easy Saturday morning, since there was little noticeable current and no sharks in sight.

“Our goal is … guide them on the course, as well as address the safety,” he said.

Gina Bianucci Rus, 52, relaxed before the race, unbothered by shark concerns, though she admitted hearing about the sighting “gives you pause.”

“It hasn’t been a problem for over 25 years. For now, it’s not going to change my habits,” said the triathlon vet Gina Bianucci Rus.

Walking to the Alma, the historic schooner that took the swimmers to Alcatraz for the start of the race, Keith Nowell, 61, said the event carried its usual high energy but everyone was extra careful at the same time. Less than a half hour after the triathletes jumped into the waters — 28 minutes and 44 seconds to be exact — Adam Eilath, a 28-year-old competing as a relay participant, swam ashore first to cheers from the audience.

“We swim in a way that really respects the territory,” said Eilath, unsurprised by the lack of sharks. “You have a much higher chance of dying a million other ways.”

‘Just dolphins’

The first-place swimmer overall for the solo competitors, Andrew Winn, soon sped in with a time of 33:24. Winn, 26, was one of the youngest competitors.

“It was great. No sharks, just dolphins,” said Andrew Winn, as he scrambled into clothes for the biking portion.

Linda Nowell, a longtime competitor who sat out and cheered on her husband, Keith, said the sharp-toothed predators are hardly on the top list of safety concerns.

“Pilots spend more time warding off recreational boats,” she said.

Her husband, Keith, said he was both excited and nervous, but more from the adrenaline of a good workout and less from the looming threat of a great white.

“This event always gives me butterflies,” he said.

Source: SFGate