“ART WAS IN HIS 60s AND WANTED TO SHOW THAT HE WASN’T ANYWHERE NEAR THE END OF HIS ACTIVE LIFE.”
Much of my family life during childhood centered on aquatic sports. Swimming came natural to me and when I was ten years old, I joined the swim club that was located across the street from our elementary school. I discovered that I was particularly good at the breast-stroke, and won my share of the events.
Even though I spent all of my life on and in the water, my career as a competition swimmer took a decades long hiatus, which ended in 2012 when Art Lorenzini, the landlord for our Keller Williams Brentwood office space, said he was going to celebrate his Sept. 7 birthday by getting involved in an open-water swimming competition, which was called The South End Rowing Club Invitational. Art was in his 60s and wanted to show that he wasn’t anywhere near the end of his active life.
It was the first time I heard of open-water swimming, so I decided to sign up for the event myself, which involved swimming from Alcatraz to Aquatic Park, which is the first stopping point for sailing ships coming through the Golden Gate. The swim has a certain quality about it because for years people believed that nobody could swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco, based on the fact that the few times convicts tried to do so they were never seen again.
Immediately after signing up, I began telling friends about the adventure. My 23-year-old son Blake got on board right away. I signed up in January, which gave me eight months to get into condition. Since I hadn’t really been swimming very much, I had to get to work if I expected to make any kind of respectable show. The basic challenge was to become enough of a swimmer so that I could actually swim the entire 1.25 miles of the course. I set out on a training program that began with the goal of being able to swim 100 laps in the 25-yard lap pool at my Delta Valley Athletic Club in less than an hour.
My first attempt was discouraging because I was completely exhausted after ten laps. However, I got back in the pool every other day for the next couple months. Each day my strength and endurance increased until I was finally able to do the 100 laps in under an hour.
The next stage of my training involved open water swimming, which I accomplished by jumping off the dock in my Discovery Bay back yard and swimming a measured two-mile course.
“ABOUT 800 OF US JUMPED INTO THE WATER FROM ALCATRAZ BUT ONLY 600 OF US SUCCEEDED IN GETTING OUT OF THE WATER AT THE AQUATIC PARK FINISH LINE.”
Finally, I felt I was ready for the “big time,” which involved actually swimming in the frigid waters and through the treacherous currents of San Francisco Bay. My family has lived in the City for four generations, so as a nod to my heritage and especially in honor of Great Grandpa Temby — who spent decades on the wharf as a career Customs Agent — I rode BART to the City, walked down Market Street, caught a cable car to the Hyde Street Pier, walked to Aquatic Park, and joined the Dolphin Club, which has been hosting salt-water swimmers since 1877. The club shares space with Southend Rowing Club, the eponymous sponsor of the competition, which had been organized four years earlier than the Dolphin Club.
My initial baptism into the cold waters of the Bay was only three months before the event. It was a shocking experience because of the temperature, the currents, and the sea lions that were hanging out in the area, and sometimes accompanying the swimmers, evidently curious about the strange and slow-moving creatures that were sharing their space.
The big day finally arrived. “As the crow flies,” the distance is a mile and a quarter, but with the current, the actual distance is closer to a mile and a half, at best. Even though the race is planned for the best time of the tides, there is never a time when the waters aren’t in motion. Because tidal currents are a continual problem, it is essential for swimmers to note the drift and then adjust the course in order to actually reach the channel between the breakwaters leading into the park. The tide is beginning to flow out at the end of the race, so swimmers who drift past the channel face the difficult challenge of swimming against the current to get back to the entrance. Small craft are available to pick up any swimmers who drift hopelessly past the channel. They will then drop them back into the water at a better point, giving them a second chance to make it through the opening.
I successfully made the swim in an hour and change, which put me somewhere in the middle of the pack. Even though I had trained very hard, my son Blake, who is an iron-worker and was working on the Sales Force Tower at the time didn’t train for a moment but showed up that day and finished in under an hour. I was proud merely to have finished the swim successfully. About 800 of us jumped into the water from Alcatraz but only 600 of us succeeded in getting out of the water at the Aquatic Park finish line. Our landlord, Art Lorenzini, was one of the finishers.
As satisfying as it was to successfully reach the finish line, the most important part of the experience was the amazing thing that occurred to me during the swim.
“THIS YEAR I’M TAKING THE EXPERIENCE TO THE NEXT LEVEL.”
Finding myself in the middle of the Bay, with the Bay Bridge on my left and the Golden Gate Bridge in front of me, there came a moment when I realized that I wasn’t merely competing in a race, I was experiencing a memory that would remain with me to the grave.
Part of the dynamic of the event came from meeting an amazing woman named Lynne Cox, who is the world’s most famous open water swimmer. Lynne broke the record twice for swimming the English Channel from England to France. She was the first woman to swim New Zealand’s frigid Cook Strait, the first person to swim Chile’s Straits of Magellan, and the first to swim around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope.
Lynne achieved international fame during the Cold War, when she approached the Russian consulate to ask permission to swim from Alaska to Russia. She was turned down several times but persisted and eventually became the first person to swim the width of the Bering Strait. She completed the historic swim shortly before Gorbachev and Reagan met to sign the Peace Treaty. Lynne said that she was sitting on her couch in her Southern California home and was shocked when she saw Gorbachev raise a toast and speak the words:
Last summer it took one brave American by the name of Lynne Cox just two hours to swim from one of our countries to the other…. She proved by her courage how close to each other our peoples live.”
Lynne advised us to embrace the event with heart, mind, and body. She said that if we weren’t going to win, then we should enjoy the swim. At some points, she said, we should simply stop and take time to embrace the reality that we were in the center of one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Then we should take a sight line and swim to the park.
That was seven years ago. I competed again in 2013 and 2014 but my responsibilities as the official narrator for the Patriots Jet Team created conflicts that caused me to miss the next four events. But now I’m back in training because my schedule is clear on September 7, when the race is scheduled to take place.
This year I’m taking the experience to the next level. Lynne motivated me to move my love for open water swimming to inspire others to join, so I created a team, which I named The Delta Destroyers in honor of my father-in-law, Earl Walter Hahn, who had served in WWII on a destroyer named USS The Sullivans as a tribute to five brothers who perished together on November 13, 1942 when their light cruiser, USS Juneau, was sunk during the Battle of Guadalcanal. It was the greatest loss for a single family in that war. Earl was a hero himself. When he was 17 years old, he lied about his age in order to enlist. He served his country in several battles. He survived, came home, married, raised five children, including my beloved wife, Kellie.
So far, we have 14 members enlisted in our Delta Destroyers team. I’m continuing to try to inspire others. It isn’t about me; I’m not trying to advance my reputation or make myself look good; it’s about encouraging others to have the amazing experience that was such a memorable event in my own life.
This year Art Lorenzini’s September 7 birthday falls on race day once more, so he’s going to go swimming with us again.
A WATERBORNE LIFE
As children growing up in San Jose, my two siblings and I loved being in the water. Dad had been raised near the water. However, the first time he took the family to the Delta was the very first time my mom got into water that was as high as her knees. We discovered later that when she learned of the planned aquatic outing, Mom actually wrote a letter to her sister giving her instructions about what to do with us kids following what she apparently imagined to be her highly probable death by drowning.
Fortunately, when she got into the water, Mom quickly realized that the life preserver she was wearing would protect her from the watery grave she had anticipated, and came to enjoy being near and in the water as much as the rest of us did. We really moved into high gear when Dad and his friend built a ski boat in the friend’s garage. In 1962, he and two other friends went together to purchase a houseboat at Englebright Dam, and we were set for summertime fun.
I was four at the time and anxious to join in all the activities, so Dad got us three kids Sears & Roebuck tiny trainer Voit water skis. They were light blue, and I thought they were the world’s most beautiful skis. The first time Dad pulled me out of the water, Mom complained to him that he was towing me too fast. As far as I was concerned, there has never been such a thing as “fast enough.” I was absolutely exhilarated! There isn’t much that you have control over when you are four years old (or when you are 40 years old, for that matter.) However, when you are up on a pair of skis, you have a unique sense of being in command of the moment.
I loved water-skiing, but took the sport to the next level when I was 22 years old and discovered the joy of barefoot waterskiing — moving effortless across the water without any apparatus except my size nines. I worked hard at the sport, became a competitor, and earned several championship medals. In 1990, my partner Scott Pellaton and I set a world’s record that stands today for the barefoot quarter mile. We crossed the finish line at 99.33 MPH.