July 14, 2004

Sophie - Alcatraz Sharkfest camera.gif

Sunday was the Alcatraz Sharkfest swim. It would have been Ray's sixth swim. Early that morning a big crowd of friends and family went down to witness my brother-in-law Blaise (Ray's inspiration) swim for the 7th year, our friend Greg swim for the 4th year, and my incredible cousin James swim for the 1st time, in honor of Ray. In traditional SF fashion we've had dismal grey July days, and Saturday's Yankee sail was freezing, but we woke up Sunday morning to gorgeous sunny skies, and all felt that Ray was smiling down on us. The guys all made great time - 46 minutes for Greg, 49 minutes for Blaise, and James came in at an astonishing 52 minutes.

Now don't get me wrong, I still think they're all nuts. But I'm very, very proud of them. Especially my cousin James. His was such a Ray effort - he set his mind to do something, a real challenge, because it looked like fun. Because it was there, and because he could. Because it was important to him. And he kicked some ass!

James approached the swim the same way Ray did - the first year we went down to watch Blaise, Ray was so excited by the whole thing, and declared he would do it the next year. And I, supportive wife, said "what are you TALKING about!?!?! You never swim! It's cold, it's a long distance, the current's terrible." blahblahblah. None of that mattered - it was something new, an adventure, an exploration. Besides, it was something he could share with Blaise. Then it became tradition.

For James, of course, it's different. He can't share the experience with Ray. But in some ways he can, and he told us afterwards that he felt Ray was his co-pilot as he zigzagged his way through the crazy surf, without hesitation.

Ray's 2nd year he decided to do the swim without a wetsuit. He'd joined the dolphin club, and was so into that experience (boat building by hand, old guys telling stories in the sauna, what's not to love?) that he wanted to swim "dolphin-style". He'd trained in the cove, and never wore a suit, so what's the big deal? Well, that would be the current, waves, etc..I think he was in the water for 1 hours. When he came out he was blue. And vibrating from the cold. I frantically tried to warm him with towels. Then suddenly, from out of the crowd, comes a brother from Tulane, who I'd never met. So Ray becomes Mr. Social, handing out beers, while his teeth are chattering and his skin is slowly slowly slowly fading from aqua to pale purple. I thought I'd strangle him. He wore a suit again every year after that one!

Celebratory bloody mary's afterwards, that part I always understood. And the carbo-loading dinner the night before. And the immense joy they felt in their accomplishment.

Damn it was hard trying not to look for Ray coming out of the surf.

The announcer/DJ told the crowd about them at one point, about three guys who were swimming in memory of Ray O'Neal. We all cheered so loudly, he brought it up again 10 minutes later, acknowledging the Ray O'Neal fan club. They wore arm bands that said Remembering Ray O'Neal - we took a picture, I promise I'll post it when I see it.

Thanks to all of you who remember Ray, and who honor him in your own way. Go jump into a freezing cold ocean if that's what the spirit of Ray moves you to do! Or whatever else looks like fun, like adventure, like something fun to do with the people you love.

Sharkfest 2004
Previous Sharkfests