James Savage was shivering when he arrived back at the San Francisco Aquatic Park after more than two hours in the cold, strong waters of the bay.
Several people stood in front of him cheering, congratulating and taking live video of the 9-year-old Los Banos boy who had just completed a “touch-and-go” swim from the aquatic park to Alcatraz Island and back.
“I just wanted to get out of the water,” James said.
James went straight to his mother and gave her a big hug. And as the young swimmer shed his swimming gear and was wrapped with towels, he broke into a smile at what he had just accomplished.
In addition to completing one of a series of personal goals, James’ effort could give him the Guinness World Record of being the youngest person to swim to Alcatraz and back. James was accompanied on the swim by his coach, Josh Weinberger, and another swimmer he met, Merced resident Greg Friedman.
During the two-hour swim, James was cheered on by family members and supporters who followed nearby in kayaks and a boat. Supporters broadcast live video over social media, attracting hundreds to watch James.
At times, James looked like he was running out of gas. But the constant support and cheers by the people following him pushed him to complete the swim.
After returning to land, James said it was more challenging than expected.
“The waves were a lot bigger than I expected,” he said. “It looked calm at first. And, when we got out there, it got bigger.”
His mother, Jillian Savage, said the current was stronger than expected Tuesday.
“It pushed all three of them way off course,” Savage said. “Once they got to the island and touched it, it kind of started to hit.”
James said he swam mostly breaststroke on his way to Alcatraz, and he switched his strategy to include more freestyle on the way back.
“At first, I was kind of scared,” James said. But he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to win the $100 bet his uncle proposed if James completed the swim.
This wasn’t a swim on a whim. The 4-foot, 6-inch, 57-pound Mercey Springs Elementary student prepared for the feat by swimming for about six hours each day at the Pacheco High School pool and the Los Banos reservoir near the detention dam.
James also completed one leg of the journey last year during the 35th annual Escape from the Rock race. Recently, he also completed a swim from San Diego to Coronado Island.
“I was so happy for him,” Savage said. “I’m most proud of what it took for him to get here.”
Guinness World Records North America spokeswoman Sofia Rocher said there was no official world record for James’ feat, according to an email to The Enterprise. Guinness World Records will review the swim and application for the record.
Unofficially, other young swimmers have completed the “touch-and-go” and similar swims.
Sunnyvale native Anaya Khanzodé completed the swim at 10 years old last year, according to a San Jose Mercury News report. Also, KCRA television and Swimming World magazine reported that Braxton Bilbrey at 8 years old swam from the aquatic park around Alcatraz and back in 2007.