The Bold Italic | Meet the Children who Swim to Alcatraz

     March 8, 2017

    The waters between North Beach and Alcatraz are not shark infested, as urban legends would have you believe. Most sharks can’t live in the bay’s fresh water, as their fatty livers aren’t functionally flotational without salination. Take the Journal of Experimental Biology’s word for it: sharks don’t have the “fancy air bladders” of modern fish. Once they cross the threshold between ocean and bay, they begin to sink, faraway from the habitable waters of their ilk and farther away from the delicious limbs of swimmers.

    Mitali Khanzodé, who, at age 15, has made the Alcatraz swim 33 times, is quick to explain this common misconception to me. “The real threat is hypothermia,” she says. She also tells me, “Wetsuits chafe horribly.” The tradeoff between chaffing and dying of hypothermia seems small when the average temperature of the water is 60 degrees and you “feel so cold your limbs start to go numb.” As Mitali explains, “Sometimes it’s difficult to tell your hands are turning white.” Despite this, she is already swimming races in “skin” — without a wetsuit — in order to prepare herself for more advanced races that require it.

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