Isom swims San Francisco Bay

Junior joins family tradition after intense training


Courtesy of Lola Isom

Lola Isom and her father swam from Alcatraz to shore together.

by Jane Clark, Editor-in-Chief

Months of cold water training pays off as Lola Isom jumps into the chilly California waters at the break of dawn, ready to carry on a years-long        family tradition.

Lola Isom swam with her dad, Robert Isom, approximately 1.4 miles from Alcatraz Island into the San Francisco Bay on April 9, continuing a family tradition that her mother and siblings have completed in the past. The following day, they swam 1.2 miles underneath the Golden Gate Bridge from tower to tower, proving that her intense training and practice paid off.

“The first one I swam at around 6 a.m. so I got to watch the sunrise, which was nice,” Lola said.

Although it seems extreme, the swim does not have sharks and distance-wise many swimmers go much farther every day in practice.

“Almost 100 swimmers joined us — much younger than Lola and some even older than me,” Robert Isom said. “It was all very safe and I think it’s great that Lola might take on another swimming challenge — but for me, I’m looking forward to warm pool water, with a floatie and a cold drink.”

Bobby Patten, Lola’s swim coach, said the Alcatraz Swim is a challenging open water event because the water is dark, cold, and can be very choppy. He praises her for taking on this challenge.

“On occasion you have some sea friends swim near you,” Patten said. “While the sea lions are really cute, they can be aggressive and mean.”

Lola had to train in open water to prepare for the cold water in California. Preparation consisted of going to Arizona a few times and training with her old swim club where they would jump into a lake that was about 50 degrees and swim for an hour at a time. This helped her get used to the cold water and similar conditions that she would face in the Bay.

“It was pretty cold but enjoyably cold once you go, like only painful for the first minute,” she said.

She said she has had fun training and anticipating the San Francisco swim and she said it could be the first of many that she participates in.

“I want to do it hopefully next year if the timing works out, but I’ll definitely do it again at some point in the future,” she said.

Inspiration for the swim came from a sort of family tradition in which the rest of her immediate family had already participated. The tradition began when the Isoms lived in Arizona.

“When we lived in Arizona, the kids’ swim club sponsored a training event,” Robert Isom said.

The training was to experience the cold of the water in preparation for the swim in California. Robert Isom said the distance was never a problem but the temperature of about 50 degrees, in the open, wavy water was the challenge.

“Lola’s sister, Sophie, and I did it first,” Robert Isom said. “The next year, Lola’s brother, Henry, and Mrs. Isom did it.”

This year, however, it was Lola’s turn. She and her dad began preparing in September 2021, starting by swimming in a desert mountain lake every few weekends through January.

“The water gets progressively colder and you have to build tolerance,” Robert Isom said. “Your face and feet go totally numb and you swim for an hour or so, roughly 1.5 miles during the training events.”

Robert and Lola made a handful of trips to Arizona during the winter.

“The first trip to Arizona, I’m not sure Lola knew what she was getting into,” Robert Isom said. “She gave me a look like ‘we are going to do what?!’”

Each time, it became easier and Robert said although Lola seemed to enjoy it, he did not so much. However, he acknowledges the valuable skills swimmers gain on the way.

“It’s good practice to get accustomed to being uncomfortable – and it is – but even more importantly, it teaches a great life skill about preparation and trying to achieve things that seem almost out of reach,” Robert Isom said.

As someone who has completed the swim before, Patten found the swim to be as much if not more mental than physical.

“While the training gets your body ready for the physical, the long swimming in cold water takes a special mind set,” Patten said. “Lola did a great deal of additional training and practice swims in cold water to be both physically and mentally prepared.”

To complete the swim is a big accomplishment and Patten notes that he now knows she is a 500 swimmer.