Lisa Edwards pauses for a victory salute during her October 8 swim from Alcatraz to the San Francisco shore. Alison Saylor, a South End Rowing Club (SERC) support swimmer, cheers her on. (Colin Gift)

Native Americans Swim From Alcatraz to San Francisco To Inspire Healthy Change

Angela Rios (Colville Confederated Tribes, Washington), swimming from Alcatraz to San Francisco on October 8 (Colin Gift)

After six days of training, on October 8, a dozen Native Americans made the 1.2-mile swim from Alcatraz to the San Francisco shore—a challenging feat in the chilly, 50- to 60-degree water and rough Bay currents. Tribal representatives from Alaska, Washington and California participated in this year's program.

Each Native swimmer was paired with a veteran South End Rowing Club (SERC) swimmer for the journey.

The 10th Annual PATHSTAR Alcatraz Swim Week, September 30 to October 8, gave participants the confidence to make physical fitness a priority and empowered them to develop good eating habits. The week-long event is a component of the San Francisco-based nonprofit PATHSTAR's year-round efforts to inspire healthy nutrition and active lifestyles practices in tribal communities. A primary goal of PATHSTAR is to counteract obesity—a major risk factor for diabetes—which is affecting American Indians and Alaska Natives at disproportionate rates.

PATHSTAR Alcatraz Swim Week participants engaged in communal living, including shopping for and preparing meals with organically grown vegetables. They visited an urban community garden, a farmer's market and a San Francisco Bay Area farm. Activities included daily vigorous walks, yoga and pilates sessions, and a kayak/paddle board outing.

"The swim week was a good motivation for me to get myself into healthier eating and exercising more to be healthier for my kids," said Clarita ("CJ") Seludo, a member of the Ketchikan Indian Community of Alaska, who has two daughters, ages 8 and 7, and 3-year-old son. "I want to exercise every day."

Josephine ("Joey") Cohen, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes of Washington State, had not swam in more than 20 years when she started the PATHSTAR Alcatraz Swim Week. "We started training on a Monday, and the following Monday we were ready to go," she said. "I was confident I could do it. It was very cold, but I would love to do it again. It was a real confidence booster, and the week's program will help me lead a healthier lifestyle."

Native participants of the PATHSTAR Alcatraz Swim Week return to their communities as ambassadors for healthy change, sharing their experience with family and community.

Support swimmers cheer as Josephine (Joey) Cohen (Colville Confederated Tribes, Washington), completes her October 8 swim from Alcatraz to the South End Rowing Club, San Francisco. (Colin Gift)

"What the program taught us was to take the initiative on our own to bring those health resources to our indigenous communities; not being someone who's going to sit around and wait for health to come to us," said Wicahpiluta (Luta) Candelaria, a Rumsen Ohlone and San Francisco resident.

Inspiration came from a support network of fellow Natives working toward the same goal—better health for themselves, their families and their communities.

"The importance of support is a main message that I'm taking home this year," second year participant Shelli Joy Martinez, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes of Washington, said. "Whether it's getting help to read food labels or getting an exercise buddy, support is everywhere around you. You just have to ask."

To learn more about PATHSTAR and the annual swim from Alcatraz, visit

Shelli Joy Martinez (Colville Confederated Tribes, Washington), moments before she jumped into the frigid San Francisco Bay water to start her October 8 swim (Palauni Ma Sun)
Clarita (CJ) Seludo (Ketchikan Indian Community, Alaska), and Nancy Iverson, PATHSTAR director, swimming on October 8 from Alcatraz to San Francisco. (Colin Gift)
Lisa Edwards (Colville Confederated Tribes, Washington) leaps into the frigid San Francisco Bay water off Alcatraz to start her October 8 swim to the San Francisco shore. (Colin Gift)

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page