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'Level-Headed' Guys Brave Shark Threat, Currents for City of Hope

Charity: Six-man relay raises $63,360 for pediatric cancer research. All of the swimmers have been touched by cancer.

July 21, 2002|MILTON CARRERO GALARZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Carolyn Suttle could not restrain herself from whistling Saturday evening when she realized that her 49-year-old husband, Michael, and five other team swimmers were about to reach the San Clemente Pier after struggling for 33 hours in the water separating the coast and an island 60 miles away.

It was about 4:50 p.m. when she first saw Brendan Halffman's arm emerging from the water and then splashing down again, leaving a faint trail in the calm ocean waters.

Seven hours after their scheduled arrival time, the team accomplished its goals: swimming from San Clemente Island to the coast for what they say is the first time, and raising $63,360 for pediatric cancer research at the City of Hope.

Although Suttle never doubted that her husband would meet the challenge, she was apprehensive about weather conditions, the current, and the idea of his sharing the water in the last legs of the swim with sharks.

"You always get nervous," she said. "These guys are all pretty level-headed, but they are contending against Mother Nature."

The team encountered no sharks. Aside from relentless and strong current near Catalina Island, Mother Nature cooperated. The water was warmer than normal and nearly flat, which made for a smooth swim. A group of dolphins escorted the swimmers most of the way.

The team left San Clemente Island at 7:53 a.m. Friday, when Dave Yudovin, 50, an experienced distance swimmer and cancer survivor, set off on the team's initial one-hour leg.

Yudovin was followed by Scott Zornig, 42; Halffman, 32, Craig Taylor, 49; Jim Fitzpatrick, 47, and Suttle.

The most trying hours of the swim came when the team neared Santa Catalina Island.

They had to swim into a current approaching two knots at sunset Friday. When the sun rose the next morning, the swimmers discovered they'd made little headway during the night.

It was the most discouraging part of the swim, Zornig said. Team members began wondering if the marathon swim was a good idea.

"I had a lot of second thoughts," said Halffman, his legs still trembling soon after arriving ashore. "Swimming in the middle of the night is really difficult."

Still, about 5 p.m., when the team finally arrived at the San Clemente Pier, there were no signs of exhaustion.

The team members, who average just under 45 years, waved at the welcoming crowd. They thanked the support ship crew for their help, especially Dr. Gus Gialumas of San Clemente Hospital and Medical Center, who provided and skippered the support boat.

Zornig highlighted the work of the City of Hope Cancer Center, which he said helped his wife survive cancer.

All of the swimmers have been touched by cancer directly or indirectly. Yudovin said he hoped his ability to defeat cancer and remain an athlete would inspire others.

"When you have something to look forward to, and you make it a goal, it really helps to deal with an illness."

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