Last Update: Thursday, December 05, 2013
|Gonzales Brothers Do Their Part Swimmingly|
|Written by Mike Terry Sun Contributing Writer|
|Thursday, 03 October 2013 01:29|
Robert And Daniel Finish The 1.5-Mile Course From Alcatraz Island To The San Francisco Bay To Raise Money For Scholarships
Robert Daniel Gonzales
San Fernando City Councilmember Robert Gonzales and his brother Daniel stood poised at their respective starting points for the 11th annual Alcatraz Race with the Centurions in the Bay of San Francisco on Sept. 28, ready to swim 1.5 miles to help raise money for two scholarships Robert helps support.
They had trained dutifully for nearly six months to build strength and stamina. And even though it was their first time entering an open water competition, they expected to post respectable times.
They even caught a weather break that morning. Instead of the typical foggy and misty conditions that typically define the Northern California city, the sun was out. "It was beautiful," Robert said. "For San Francisco it was pretty warm."
When they plunged into 62-degree waters, however, Robert said they were slapped in the face – literally – by a cold dose of reality.
"Right when you get in, it was the cold shock to my face," he said. "My hands, feet (no fins) and face were very cold." Robert also realized he had forgotten to put an anti-fogging chemical on his goggles. "I had to use good old-fashion spit" to clear his eye protection.
But neither cold, foggy goggles or leg cramps would deter the brothers for completing the 1.5-mile course that began near the shores of the fabled Alcatraz Prison Island to the Aquatic Park in San Francisco Bay. Both men finished the race in under an hour.
They entered the event not as a bucket-list item but as a way to help raise money. Robert has a scholarship in his name, and another in the name of former Councilmember Julie Ruelas.
They are given to one male and female high school student at the annual Caesar Chavez Inspirational Youth Conference, held in March in San Fernando. To qualify, a student must attend the conference, go to the various workshops, and write an essay about what they learned at a particular workshop and how they plan to implement the knowledge into their daily lives.
"A committee reads and judges the essays, with the winners being announced in April," Robert said.
This year, two scholarships worth $550 each were awarded, Robert said. He is hoping to at least double those dollar amounts next year.
To do so, he and Daniel have been looking for creative ways to solicit donations. Doing the swim was one such idea.
The brothers were among the more than 400 participants who each paid a $135 entry fee to swim. On race day, the swimmers, dressed in wet suits and other protective gear, met at the Aquatic Park and ferried by boat to the starting point.
"We got directions on the safest routes to swim," said Robert, adding there were two courses, one for elite swimmers and the other for everyone else. "They also told us about the currents we would swim in. There was one that was strong and pushing out toward the Golden Gate Bridge; another current was pushing toward the pier near Alcatraz, but it was weaker."
The racers left in three different shifts. The elite swimmers began first, followed by teams. Robert and Daniel were among the remaining individuals that entered the water approximately 15 minutes after the elite group.
"We were upset about that," Robert recalled. "The starting time of the race was the same for everybody. But we don't get to enter the water for another 10-15 minutes."
No matter, the brothers began their swim, using freestyle stroke they had practiced for countless hours in San Fernando area pools. Once he became accustomed to the water's temperatures, Robert began glancing around the bay to see if there were any underwater sights.
All he saw was the color green. "As you were swimming, you would hit very cold spots, then warm, then little bit cold. But you couldn't tell any depth," Robert said.
But there was a moment when the color of the water changed.
"At one point, I saw a white shadow go by underneath," Robert said. "I had no idea what it was. I know it was big. I thought for a minute I was crazy. When I got to shore, I told our family that I saw something, and my brother said he saw it too."
Fortunately the rest of the swim was uneventful – until Robert began to cramp up about a quarter mile from the finish.
"My left hamstring and left calf started to cramp," he said. "So I was only kicking with one leg, while trying to stretch the other leg while swimming. At points it was painful.
"Then my right leg cramped and soon I was only swimming with my arms."
Rest assured the swimmers are not by themselves out there. Race officials and volunteers, both in boats and canoes, cover the course to help any competitor who in unable to complete the race. "They did have to pull some people out," Robert said. "One of the canoe's came up to me and the guy asked if I was okay; I told him I was enjoying the view."
Robert wanted to finish despite the muscle cramps. He asked Daniel to stay by him; his brother complied. Together they managed to reach the finish line with a time of 52 minutes.
"I still had to come out of the water and cross the line (that monitors the electronic timer strapped to each swimmer's ankle)," Robert said. "I could barely walk and started to panic; I didn't want to fall forward in front of the people who were cheering.
"Somehow I swung my legs over that finish line. I couldn't even bend down to take the timer off my ankle. A race official did it for me."
Take away the muscle cramps, though, and Robert was invigorated by the experience.
"I want to do it again. It was actually easier than I anticipated," he said. "This [next] time I want to swim the elite route. They finished in the 20-30 minute range. We were actually in a 40-minute but it took all that time to get off boat.
"But our endurance was excellent; neither one of us was tired after the race."
He said he received another $250 in donations for the scholarships following the race, and is back to finding other methods of fundraising.
"I plan to keep seeking donations up until the next Chavez Inspirational Conference next March," Robert said.
For those interested in contributing to the Robert C. Gonzales and Julie Ruelas scholarshaips, donations of $10 or more can be sent to:
Pueblo y Salud, Inc
1024 N. Maclay Ave. Suite M-13 San Fernando, CA 91340
Attn: Gonzales Scholarship