During its 29 years of operation as a federal penitentiary, Alcatraz Island housed some of the most notorious prisoners in the United States and is famed for never allowing even one to escape it alive. Now, thousands of triathletes annually descend on what is now a landmark historical site for America’s top-ranked triathlon, the Escape from Alcatraz™. This year, the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) sponsored five athletes in the grueling June 14 race, which included a 1.5-mile swim through frigid waters-from Alcatraz Island to a shoreline yacht club-an 18-mile bike ride over San Francisco’s hair-raising hills, and a demanding eight-mile run through the Golden Gate Recreational Area.
As the official charity partner of the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon, CAF received more than $11,000 in donations, some in the form of race entry fees from fundraisers and the rest from race organizers.
Athlete Sebastian “Sam” Cila raced as part of CAF’s Operation Rebound program, which helps military personnel return to the pleasures and pain of competitive sports after being injured. Cila joined the National Guard soon after the attacks of September 11, 2001. While deployed in Iraq on July 4, 2005, Cila was hit with an improvised explosive device (IED) blast that led to the amputation of his left arm and more than 40 other surgeries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC), Washington DC. Cila crossed the finish line in 1,115th place overall, beating more than 550 able-bodied competitors and placing sixth in his class.
Other CAF-sponsored competitors included the legendary triathlete “One-Armed Willie” Stewart, Chris Chandler, Andy Hatcher, and Andy May. May, a former expert-class mountain biker who lost a leg after a motorcycle accident, told The Argus newspaper, “There are moments, [when competing], I forget I am an amputee…. For me, that is the sweetest victory, being able to beat someone who is able-bodied…. It makes you feel alive, complete.”