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Braxton Bilbrey is one of the youngest people ever to swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco.
Braxton Bilbrey is one of the youngest people ever to swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco.
(Photo: Frederic Larson)

Big Swim
By Genet Berhane

May 23, 2006—When 7-year-old Braxton Bilbrey climbed out of the water at San Francisco's Aquatic Park, a crowd greeted him. On Monday, the second-grader from Glendale, Arizona, became one of the youngest people ever to swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco. He completed the 1.4-mile swim in just 47 minutes.

"I think it's pretty cool," said Braxton, as he came out of the water.

So how does a young boy come up with such a big idea? By reading: Braxton came across a magazine article about 9-year-old Johnny Wilson, who completed the swim in a little less than two hours last October. Wilson's story got Braxton thinking. He decided that the long swim from Alcatraz was something he'd like to try.

Alcatraz was once a federal prison that held some of the country's most well-known criminals. Today, it is a tourist site that receives about 1 million visitors each year. A number of athletes have swum the course from the former prison to San Francisco.

When Braxton's mom first heard her son's idea, she wasn't too excited. Her son's determination, though, soon changed her mind.

"For a 7-year-old to be that motivated and stick with a goal that long is amazing," said Stacey Bilbrey, Braxton's mother. "He's worked hard for it."

Once he set a goal for himself, Braxton had to begin training. To prepare for the big swim, the 7-year-old began swimming two hours a day, four times a week. Braxton had company for Monday's big swim, as his coach and two other adults swam alongside him.

"If you were to ask me if a 7-year-old is old enough to do it, I'd say maybe one out of 10 million," said Joe Zemaitis, Braxton's swim coach. "But he's that one."

After finishing his swim, Braxton was lifted out of the water by his father.

"He did so awesome," said his dad, Steve Bilbrey. "I'm so proud of him."

What's next for Braxton? This second-grader already has his eye on a new goal—to swim the English Channel.


Ask Earl: Alcatraz
Get a brief history of Alcatraz Island when you visit this Web site.

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