Testing Limits in an Escape from Alcatraz


On Saturday, April 27, 27 Berkeley MBA students tested their limits with a swim through cold bay waters from Alcatraz to San Francisco. Here's what it was like to take the plunge:

By Guest Blogger Minnie Fong, MBA 13

It’s 7:00AM, and it’s a cold, foggy, San Francisco morning. We huddle at the Fisherman’s Wharf, with wetsuits up to half of our body, warm jackets to protect our torso, and loud dance music to pump up our spirits courtesy of Bri’s “jammy” pack. Today was D-day: a culmination of two months worth of hard work and training for many of us.

We sign ourselves in, get numbers on our hands, and listen to a short briefing. We try to protect our skin from chafing with body glide, use wax as ear plugs to protect our inner ears from the cold water, and give each other hugs both to warm up and pass on encouragement. Before we know it, we are getting on the boat, and heading out to Alcatraz.

At 8:00AM, we were ready. One last briefing – instructions to aim for Fort Mason and Ghirardelli Square – and then the big jump. One by one, we climbed up the steps, held on to our goggles, and jumped off the boat and into the icy water.

Surprisingly, the water wasn’t as cold today. Perhaps it was because the weather outside was really cold, so the shock wasn’t too bad. Maybe it’s because this is actually my fourth time in the bay already, and my body has gotten used to the cold. Or maybe it’s the adrenaline keeping us pumped. Whatever it was, as soon as you get in the water, you just swim.

One arm in front of the other, breathing in between: I begin to hit a rhythmic stride. At first I’m surrounded by my peers, then everyone begins drifting apart. Before I know it, it’s just me and my little head, bobbing up and down the bay. I know the support boats and kayaks are around, but there are moments when I look up, and don’t see anyone else beside me. I begin to feel so tiny in the middle of everything. The waves are strong, and I swallow a mouthful of salty water every once in a while. Then I start thinking of sea otters. And jellyfish. And sharks. So I keep going. Because I can. Because I need to. Because I am stronger than I think I am.

As I keep swimming, I feel the skin on my neck start to sting. Chafing. #$%*. Lauren said this will look like a hickey afterwards.

The next time I look up and stop to take a break, a voice on a boat provides me with a little reassurance. You’re doing great, sweetheart. Just a little bit longer. You’re almost there.

I begin to see the walls to the Aquatic Park in the distance. Finally.

And as I swim to shore on the last stretch, I see my classmates who finished ahead, huddled together and celebrating. As I get closer, I realize that the noise I hear is them cheering for me.

I finally get close enough to stand up, run to shore, and get swept off my feet by my classmate to celebrate the fact that I finished.

We all did.

Despite all the fear and uncertainty we felt this morning mixed with our excitement, we realized today that we are stronger than we think we are.

And this, once again, is a reminder of why I love Haas. Because two years ago, I would never have thought that I would have the strength and courage to swim across the freezing, shark-infested bay.

Today, a month before graduation, I found myself swimming across the San Francisco Bay, truly embracing one of Haas’ defining principles: Question the Status Quo. But pushing myself further than I would ever have imagined was only possible because I swam today with supportive classmates in front of me, ready to provide anything from swimming tips, encouragement, good cheer, warm hugs, and the occasional celebratory lift to make sure we all cross the finish line. Together.

Congratulations to: Alia Al Kasimi, Levent Besik, Ben Buchanan, Borja Carol, Samir Das, Minnie Fong, Suresh Krishnamoorthy, Gerald Matthe, Elsita Meyer-Brandt, Dominik Sanya, Carla Vazquez, and Andrew Wisnewski, all MBA 13, and to Caroline Bas, Gustavo Brandileone, Pablo Cuaron, Stephanie Curran, Yuval Gez, Chao Li, Luis Lopez Nieto, Bri Treece, Yoni Shiran, Christine Tringale, and Nikita Zhilin, all MBA 14, and to partners Marina Brandileone, Rudy Ramirez, and Sebastiaan Verhaar.


About The Author

From 2011-2013, Valerie Gilbert focused on sharing stories of Berkeley MBA student achievements and connection to the Haas Defining Principles. At Haas since 2004 and now Associate Director of Content Marketing, she still enjoys revealing the different facets of life at Berkeley-Haas to a variety of audiences.