SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - -- With his hands and feet bound together, Jay Platt prepared to plunge into the 55-degree water of the San Francisco Bay. Water so cold, it could bring tears to your eyes. His path from “The Rock” to the shore stretched a total of 1.66 miles. And with the constant ebb and flow of the raging currents, Platt not only fought exhaustion, he fought the sea itself.
But why? What would possess someone to attempt such a thing, especially when only two other men in history, fitness guru Jack Lalanne and Italian swimmer Alberto Christini, have been successful? What motivation could this man possibly have to risk his life and cheat death?
“This is for all the Marines who have given so much,” said Platt. And with that, he dove in.
Jay Platt, a retired gunnery sergeant, swam for almost two hours from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco Nov. 7 with his feet bound and hands tied in front to raise awareness for the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund.
Founded in 2004, the Marine Semper Fi Fund provides financial grants and other assistance to the Marines, sailors and families of those injured while serving our nation.
Even though he was nervous, Platt knew the cause he was swimming for was well worth the effort.
“In the back of my head, I was worried I had bitten off more than I could chew,” said Platt. “But as Marines, we possess a certain amount of confidence that normal people don’t have. I knew I would step up when the time came.”
Though the swim was no easy task, it pales in comparison to his “biggest challenge to date.” Jay “Patch” Platt was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer known as von Hippel-Lindau syndrome in 1986.
The disease, which is generally hereditary, is caused by the loss or mutation of a tumor suppressor gene.
“It got really bad in 1995 when a tumor formed behind my left eye, and the doctors had to remove my eye,” said Platt.
Rather than fade into the shadows and wallow in his own self-pity, Platt used his setback to prove it’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s how you respond to it.
In 1998, Platt made the decision to attempt something only about 300 people in the world have ever accomplished before. He decided to hike the more than 2,100 miles of the Appalachian Trail, the longest continual footpath in the world, to raise money for the von Hippel-Lindau Family Alliance.
“I didn’t want to become a ‘used to be’,” said Platt. “I’m driven by the Marine Corps spirit of never quitting. I hope to inspire others to never give up no matter what.”
Starting at Mt. Katahdin in Maine, Platt hiked for five straight months through 14 different states before reaching the finish line on Jan. 23, 1999, at Springer Mountain in Georgia. He raised $109,000 for the alliance, which went towards research to find a cure.
In the beginning, Platt had no intentions of going any further than the hike. But one day while surfing the Internet, Platt read an article, which sparked his interest.
“The article talked about Jack Lalanne and the time he swam across the bay with his hands and feet tied,” said Platt. “As a combat water survival instructor for eight years, I was very confident in my swimming ability. This definitely peaked my curiosity.”
Platt originally learned to swim with his hands tied and his feet bound while at the Combat Water Survival Swimming School at Camp Johnson in 1987.
“They would tie our hands behind our back, blindfold us and then throw us in the water,” said Platt. “This training taught me to stay relaxed in the water under any circumstances.”
To train for the event, Platt swam about three miles each week. Using a kickboard, he would often swim with his ankles bound together to help build leg strength and endurance.
Master Sgt. Paz T. Platt, Jay’s wife, who is currently stationed at Marine Corps Air Station New River, also helped Jay get ready for the swim.
“My wife worries about me sometimes, but she’s very supportive,” said Platt. “She gave up a long time ago trying to stop me.”
Platt’s next adventure will take him from Jacksonville, N.C. to San Diego via bicycle. The journey, which he plans to begin in March, will take him an estimated eight weeks to complete.