Sean Keenan Escapes From Alcatraz With Funds for Chairty

October 9, 2014 0

Ever since seeing Escape From Alcatraz I was always fascinated by the whole “did anybody ever really get off the island” debate. I had watched documentaries on the various theories. A few years ago I became aware that there was an annual triathlon which included swimming from Alcatraz to San Francisco. With the help of a good friend who lives in SF I applied and received an entry.

The distances were reasonasean_keenan_alcatraz_swim_09oct14_2ble with the swim being 1.9k, 40k cycle and 14k run. I had prepared well for the later two but the swim is the real challenge. I spent numerous hours in the pool in Gormanston College swimming pool getting in distance and continuing to work on technique. Next challenge was to get used to swimming in cold water. It’s handy having our cool Irish sea on our doorstep. With the company of some great friends: Lisa Bissett, Fergal O Connor, Dennis O Leary, Sean Finnegan, Wayne Boylan we started sea swimming April.

I decided try raise funds for Balbriggan Meals On Wheels and also for two brave young girls fighting a rare cancer Alice and our own Molly. Luckily I did not have to handle any money raised as it went directly to the benefactors.

Having arrived in San Francisco I could not relax until I got bike racked, gear ready and one.more night to race day.  We had been invited to a party the previous night and having travelled so far could not possibly not go. I met a lad who was familiar with the Bay so I asked him what exactly is the story with the great white sharks, to which he replied and I quote ” ah don’t worry about the great whites, they are about a mile awsean_keenan_alcatraz_swim_09oct14_5ay in the Pacific. They don’t usually come into the bay” I didn’t feel overly assured.

Alarm set for 4am. Got up fed and got a lift to the ferry in total darkness with a cool eery cloud of anticipation greeting me on arrival. Got wet suit on and made my way to the ferry at about 5.30am. Before walking onto the gangplank I was stopped and one of the organisers said ” you know.this is a one way trip to Alcatraz Rock, do you understand? I did pause for a moment but said yes and got a wrist band to gain admission onto the ferry.

I have been anxious and nervous before various sporting events before.but for this one I was.genuinely scared and very nervous. I thought of the battles Molly and Alice have to face and a voice inside my head said “shut the f—K up Sean and get on with it.

After a forty minute ferry out to Alcatraz the ferry stopped slightly behind the island in the shelter from the wind and waves coming in from the pacific.

I had breakfast cheap disposable camera with me and was contemplating takes a selfie with the Rock behind me.

sean_keenan_alcatraz_swim_09oct14We were advised to swim straight towards the shore but the exit point was at a 45 degree angle to the right. But even though the waves were coming from the right the current was.pushing us from left to right. We were.given famous landmarks to aim at in San Francisco. But the only one I knew was the last one with a dome.roof

I zipped up wet suit put on hat and tried to spit on inside of goggles but like Richard Dreyfuss in Jaws I had none. Spare goggles were put abounding foot and camera secured behind waist, with money belt and elastic belt… time to face my fears.

We walked three abreast and plunged straight into San Francisco Bay.  The water was freezing and I went deep under and after what seemed way too long I surfaced. I started a few sloppy strokes but could put my face into the water as I got an instant severe pain in my forehead from the cold. I tried a mixture of breaststroke and front crawl strokes for about 30 metres and eventually got into a rhythm.

sean_keenan_alcatraz_swim_09oct14_3My heart rate eased and I spoke to myself to calm down. After 200m I thought I would never be in this bay with the infamous Alcatraz behind me so I threaded water and took out the camera. Taking a selfie and trying to smile under the circumstances was difficult. Photos taken I had adjusted to the water and started getting into a steady strong consistent rhythm the waves were coming from my right at 45 degrees and I constantly had to sight off the dome roof and re-adjust.

Roughly half way across I felt I had won and I would succeed. I stopped and looked around.  The golden gate bridge was to my right and the upper parts covered with mist and I thought this is pretty cool. I turned around and looked back at the Alcatraz and it was smaller than it had been when taking the photos. There was a lad doing the same as me about 10m from me, but I realised he had no goggles.  I let a shout asking if he was ok. He replied in Mexican I think and put his hand up first and then swam towards me. I reached down and took my spare goggles off my ankle and.reached them to him. He said “thank you” and I replied “look after them. I have done the South African Ironman and Frankfurt Ironman with them”. He smiled but I don’t think he understood and we both swam off. I really enjoyed the last few hundred metres and saw the exit point getting bigger and the waves getting smaller.

sean_keenan_alcatraz_swim_09oct14_4Eventually I felt sand at the tips of my fingers and staggered to my feet. As I wobbled out of the water I could hear a load American voice over loudspeaker saying “ANOTHER ONE HAS JUST ESCAPED THE ROCK” to which there was a load cheer.

To be honest I did feel ____ well I felt like I imagined I would feel if I was lifting Sam on the Hogan stand for the dubs on all Ireland day.

There was the rest of the triathlon to compete but it was way overshadowed by the whole swim experience.   I would highly recommend this for any triathlete. And yes, I do believe with all eventualities taken into consideration the three men escaped Alcatraz.

Sean presenting the cheque to Balbriggan Meals on Wheels  Kola, Colette - Hon Treasurer & Sean Keenan

Sean presenting the cheque to Balbriggan Meals on Wheels
Kola, Colette – Hon Treasurer & Sean Keenan