7-Year-Old Swims From Alcatraz to San Francisco

A 7-year-old kid swam the 1.4 miles from Alcatraz to San Franciso this morning.

Braxton Bilbrey 7-Year-Old Swims Alcatraz Photo Braxton Bilbrey, left, a 7-year-old from Arizona, sits with his father, Steve Bilbrey at San Francisco's Aquatic Park, where the youngster finished an estimated 1.4 mile swim from Alcatraz Island, Monday, May 22, 2006, in San Francisco. Bilbrey became one of the youngest swimmers to cross the channel from Alcatraz Island to the city. (AP Photo/George Niktin) A 7-year-old Arizona boy completed an estimated 1.4-mile swim from Alcatraz Island to the city’s Aquatic Park early Monday. Braxton Bilbrey’s coach and two other adults joined him in the chilly waters of San Francisco Bay. He was greeted at the finish by reporters, photographers and well-wishers.


Alcatraz, once a notorious federal prison that housed some of the nation’s infamous criminals, including Chicago mobster Al Capone, is now a tourist site that attracts about 1 million visitors a year. It also draws a fair share of swimmers who attempt the crossing as part of the annual Escape from Alcatraz triathlon.

The second-grader from Glendale, Ariz., got the idea when he saw a magazine story about a 9-year-old boy who made the swim. Johnny Wilson, a fourth grader from Hillsborough completed the swim in 53-degree waters last October. Braxton, who has completed several short-scale youth triathlons, then asked his swim coach if he could do it. “If you were to ask me if a 7-year-old is old enough to do it, I’d say maybe one out of 10 million,” coach Joe Zemaitis said. “But he’s that one.”

This mostly caught my attention because I saw the Sean Connery-Nicolas Cage flick “The Rock” last night. Otherwise, I don’t know how big a deal swimming 1.4 miles is, even for a 7-year-old.

Update: Photo added.

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James Joyner
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James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Scott_T says:

    I believe the problem is that the water is extremely cold up by San Fransico verses Southern California.

    You can probably find out on some surfing website.

  2. Scott beat me to it, but 1.4 miles in and of itself isn’t a huge deal. In the Boy Scouts, we used to have a patch for the “mile swim” (self explanatory, I hope), and if I’m not mistaken Navy SEALs are required to perform a 1.5 mile swim within certain time limits.

    The temperature and currents around Alcatraz make the swim there much more difficult, however. It’s not just cold, but evidently the currents are pretty treacherous. It’s a pretty good, though not necessarily heculean, achievement for an adult. For a seven year old, I’d say it’s a pretty big deal.

  3. That should read “Herculean”… sorry.

  4. ICallMasICM says:

    Didn’t you see ‘Escape from Alcatraz Island’? When the evil warden finds the washed up clothes of Clint Eastwood and declares ‘He drowned, the currents got him’

  5. Christopher says:

    I think there is something known as a “wet suit” that protects from the cold.

    And in the movies I saw, weren’t sharks a big concern?

  6. LJD says:

    A friend of mine has done it several times. Part of the prestige of completing the swim is doing it without a wetsuit.

    There are really no maneaters to speak of in the bay. Just small sand sharks. That story is probably a Hollywood embellishment.