Alcatraz Swim to Raise Funds to Help Kids Whose Moms Have Breast Cancer

Phoenix middle schooler seeks sponsors for second Sharkfest Swim from Alcatraz

Every spring 800 swimmers brave the 50-degree water and infamous Pacific currents between Alcatraz and San Francisco's shore. Most participants in the annual 1.5 mile "Sharkfest Swim" are seasoned adults with years of experience in open waters.

Last year, one of them was a slender 13-year-old who'd never before swum outside a pool. But Sean Gage was determined to test his competitive pool-based skills in the open ocean.

To the surprise of just about everyone, including himself, he made it back to dry land in 31 minutes, 41st out of 701 finishers (almost 100 of the racers had to be hauled out of the water and never finished the course). That put him ahead of 94 percent of the grownups in the event. After that, it didn't surprise his posse (that would be his mom and a supportive friend) when he got the gold medal as first in his age group.

Nor did it surprise them when Sean, who'd sworn he "just wanted to do this once," looked at his mom after shaking the water out of his ears and started talking about doing it again "next year."

Wanting It to Mean More This Time

Last year's "next year" is now, and for this year's May 19 event, Sean's upped his game. He wants to make his participation in this year's Sharkfest mean more than just swimming across legendary currents.

Sean, who's the son of John C. Lincoln Breast Health and Research Center director Sherry Gage, wants to use his swim to raise money to help other kids whose moms have breast cancer. But he can tell the story best, all by himself.

How did you feel before you swam from Alcatraz last year?

"Scared out of my mind. There have been very few times in my life that I have actually been afraid, when I found out my mother had breast cancer (when I was 8 years old), and before my Alcatraz swim!"

How do you feel about it now?

"Before my swim last year, I told myself that once I swam the race, I would never do it again. The seaweed looked like moving creatures I did not recognize, and it was very dark and scary. That all changed once I got to the finish line! It's very much like going through my mom being very ill. Once everything was done, I knew I had nothing to fear. Now I just want to help other kids get the chance to understand what their family is going through and not be so scared."

Why do you want to raise money for the Coping Kids Camp and Kid's Coping Backpacks?

"Well, considering my mother had breast cancer, I know the feeling of these kids that attend these camps. The main thing I remember feeling is, what can I do to help? And not knowing what to expect. Last year when I swam Alcatraz, I didn't know what to think and I was scared. That was exactly what these kids are going through, and I want to help."

How can someone make a pledge or donate?

You can donate on the John C. Lincoln Breast Health and Research Center website by visiting and clicking on the Donate Now button. On the donations page, please choose the option "Coping Kids Camp" as a designation. If you would like to mail a donation, please send a check made to JCL – Foundation at 9100 N. 2nd St., Suite 301, Phoenix, AZ 85020.

Donations are tax deductible as a charitable donation.

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