When Lorie Hirson moved to San Francisco in 2000, she wanted to swim from Alcatraz to the San Francisco shoreline. But she never attempted it until her husband Ron completed his first swim from Alcatraz.
But with retinitis pigmentosa and a gradually decreasing vision, it took her ten years before she took the plunge. Hirson suffers, along with more than 10 million other people, from her incurable disease that is causing her to lose her eyesight. She wanted to build a platform to raise awareness and money to help visual impairment and eye diseases so she started the Alcatraz Swim for Sight.
The participating swimmers of the Alcatraz Swim for Sight have a variety of diseases, including retinitis pigmentosa, Usher syndrome, and Stevens-Johnson syndrome. “I no longer have to be lonely as the only person I know with this disease. But now I have this community of swimmers and friends with similar retinal inherited diseases and we can help make a difference together.”
One of her new colleagues is Brad Snyder, a former Naval Academy swimmer and navy officer who lost his eyesight in a terrorist bombing in Afghanistan in 2011. An accomplished competitive swimmer, Snyder won five gold medals and two silver medals at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympic Games and was ready to participate in the charity swim this past weekend.
But like Hirson, he had to take a leap of faith and that first stroke after jumping in San Francisco Bay to realize his goal of swimming from Alcatraz.
This year, Snyder was paced by collegiate swimmers Bryn Lewis from the University of North Texas and Jill Dahle from Loyola Marymount University who has tethered to him with a meter-long bungee cord. Together, they swam in synchronicity. As his tethered guide, Dahle told ESPN’s Dan Arritt, “Brad is a beautiful swimmer. I breathe to my right, so I saw him every stroke. It felt very harmonious several times as we were taking strokes at the exact same time. … Just being able to see that, I felt fortunate.”
The Alcatraz Swim for Sight has raised over US$350,000 in its short history. “Every dollar went directly to research to help bring us that much closer to a cure for blindness,” writes Hirson. “To date, we have funded eight investigators in research and cutting-edge clinical care with a high potential for success (Thuy Doan, M.D., Ph.D., Douglas Gould, Ph.D., Jennifer Rose-Nussbaumer, Marc Levin, M.D., Ph.D., Bertil Damato, M.D., Ph.D., Ying Han, M.D., Ph.D., Nancy A. McNamara, O.D., Ph.D., and Matilda Chan, M.D.).
It is now among the highest grossing open water charity swims in the world:
1. 2015 Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge – US$2,010,000
2. 2011 Swim Across America Long Island Sound – US$1,245,000
3. 2013 Nighttrain228 – US$1,200,000
4. 2012 Swim Across America Long Island Sound – US$1,118,000
5. 2014 Swim Across America Long Island Sound – US$1,105,000
6. 2005 Swim Across America Long Island Sound – US$1,067,000
7. 2006 Swim Across America Long Island Sound – US$1,065,000
8. 2010 Swim Across America Long Island Sound – US$1,038,000
9. 2007 Swim Across America Long Island Sound – US$1,032,000
10. 2013 Swim Across America Long Island Sound – US$986,000
11. 2004 Swim Across America Long Island Sound – US$936,000
12. 2008 Swim Across America Long Island Sound – US$917,000
13. 2015 Tampa Bay Frogman Swim – US$500,000+
14. 2015 Mighty Mac Swim – US$432,000
15. 2016 A Long Swim – US$320,000+
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