Local woman from Kyle, SD completes Alcatraz swim

By the Tanka team

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Last month Samantha White of Kyle, SD, the location of our headquarters on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, participated in the big Alcatraz Swim in San Francisco. Below she shares her account of her journey, which she powered with Tanka from us as part of PATHSTAR -- a program that addresses the obesity, heart disease and diabetes epidemic within Native American communities.

My overall evaluation of the PATHSTAR program is nothing short of amazing. A couple memories of swimming and exploring that stand out:

October 2: My first swim in the ocean was set for early Monday morning. We all woke up at 6 a.m., ate breakfast at 6:15 a.m. and then drove down to the South End Rowing Club for the swim. We did introductions, took pictures and met our swim angels for the day. Swim Angels are amazing volunteers who take care of us and guide us in the water. After I got swim ready and did my introduction, that's when I got very nervous! Everyone had horror stories about getting into the cold water for the first time. The Swim Angels were telling everyone to remember breathe.

When I got down to the water I decided that I wasn't going to hesitate, I was just going to jump in and start swimming to warm up. I backed in as fast as I could and let myself fall in! I remember my feet hitting the water and thinking that it wasn't too bad. It was 72 degrees out that day but the water was more like 62 degrees. The cold water was completely exhilarating, instantly takes your breath away. The cold reminded me of the lakes in the Black Hills minus the salt. We spent a little over 40 minutes in the water swimming to a place called The Flag with a distance of about .6 miles round trip. We swam twice on Monday and Tuesday, once for Wednesday through Saturday and break on Sunday before the swim.

In between swims we explored the City of San Francisco, Alcatraz Tour, Pilates, Yoga, food preparation, food tracking, learned about edible landscaping and attended life coaching sessions. And, to top it all off we had to take out salt, sugar, and bread from our daily intake of foods. The PATHSTAR program really enforces a healthy lifestyle through exercise and healthy eating habits. We were busy from until 10 p.m.

October 9: The day of the Alcatraz Swim seemed to be moving in slow motion. We woke up at 4 a.m. to start the day. Every participant was timed on Saturday's swim to determine the order of our jumps so we all finished the swim at the same time. I waited almost 45 minutes on the boat for my turn to jump. I was the second to the last to jump. As I sat watching everyone jump I started to get very nervous so I stopped and sat with the captain of the boat. I vaguely remember Liz and one of the girls asking if I was freaking out or freaking in! I was most definitely "freaking in." There was three of us left to jump so they moved the boat. Savannah jumped and then before I knew it they yelled Samantha 30 seconds! Thinking that there is no turning back now I set my watch, grabbed my goggles and jumped in.

It took FOREVER to come back up to the surface. I didn't get to see my Swim Angel, Neil, jump it took so long. The water seemed to be a lot colder than our practice swims but we stopped every so often to correct our path and take photos. I remember concentrating on my breathing and how the water glided through my fingers. I was completely lost in the feeling of moving through the water. Neil stopped and told me to look at Alcatraz. It scared me a little because it looked like I didn't move but he assured me that we were more than half way at that point. We swam into a dying ebb, sighted on the JOB for 2/3 of the swim and then swam to the opening. We completed the crossing in 47 minutes in 58 degree Fahrenheit waters.

It was a great challenge to be pushed so hard physically and mentally during the week but totally worth it! I will miss every minute of it! The best part was the women that I experienced the week with: Nancy, Karen, Teresa, Val, Sylvie, Liz, Savannah, and Sanaa. I will forever remember their stories. They were so beautiful in every way and had me laughing endlessly. I can't thank Nancy Iverson enough for the opportunity and I could never forget all the volunteers who help this program thrive every year. All individuals and everyone at South End Rowing Club are truly the most loving, caring people in the world! I am proud to be a part of the PATHSTAR Tribe.