By April A. Morris  

JUNE 7, 2012 10:16 a.m. Comments (12)

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This summer, personal trainer Robb Eskenasy is not just helping others get fit, he’s hitting the pool and gearing up for a personal goal: a second run of the Alcatraz Challenge.

The last time he participated in the aquatic race from the famed California prison through the bracing, 50-degree waters to dry land was three years and 165 pounds ago.

In 2009, Eskenasy was well into his doctor-ordered fitness journey when he plunged into the San Francisco Bay. He began working to get healthier when his doctor told him that he had to drop weight from his 420-pound frame.

“The doctor said if I kept going the way I was going I’d be dead in a year,” he said. So Eskenasy began to swim every day. “I did one lap the first day, I went home, I came back and did two laps and eventually built up my endurance.”

He lost 130 pounds in 18 months. Soon after, he met his wife-to-be and moved to South Carolina the same year he first braved the cold waters of the bay.

As he prepares to brave them again, Robb Eskenasy trains three days a week at Coop’s Health and Fitness (where he became a trainer in April of this year) and three days in the Kroc Center’s pool. He swims an average of 150 laps each day, an equivalent of nearly two miles. He hopes to get up to three miles before he competes.

“The initial cold of the water saps your energy and your reserves are what take you through the swim,” he said.

And though swimming in the Alcatraz Challenge Aqualon and Swim is one of his “bucket list” goals, Eskenasy said the reason both he and wife Kim are participating in the event is to draw attention to their effort to raise funds for children with cancer.

“We thought that Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge would spark people’s interest,” he said. At the last race, he supported Jacob’s Heart Children’s Cancer Support Services in California, of personal significance because his brother-in-law died of cancer.

With this summer’s race, the Eskenasys hope to raise funds for the Bi-Lo Charities Children’s Cancer Center at Greenville Hospital System and for Camp Courage, which provides a camp experience for young cancer patients.

“We want to bring awareness about children with cancer. I don’t think that some people realize that these kids are fighting for their lives, going through chemo and radiation,” he said.

Eskenasy typically has a shaved head and said this helps him relate to the young cancer patients he visits regularly. Because he promised Jacob’s Heart that he would raise funds again, the proceeds will be split between the two charities.

On July 22, the couple will travel to San Francisco. Eskenasy will don his wetsuit, ride a tour ferry out to the prison, and jump from the boat into the water – where nearly 700 other competitors will also be swimming.

After he finishes the nearly two-mile swim, his wife will take over and complete the seven-mile run. Kim Eskenasy been a runner all her life and says she is now running five miles a day. She hopes to be up to seven miles a day soon in preparation for the run through the Presidio, which will take her up seven flights of stairs, across the Golden Gate Bridge and back to Presidio Park’s Crissy Field. The team must finish the race within three hours.

Now that Robb Eskenasy knows what he’s up against with the currents, undertow, waves and cold water between Alcatraz and the mainland, he admits he’s a bit worried about the cold. At 200 pounds, he says, “I’m not going to have any layer of fat and I’m not going to be buoyant, but I should be faster. I’m hoping to achieve this thing in 30 minutes.”

Eskenasy’s goal becomes more surreal when he mentions the barracuda that bloodied his hypothermic legs on the last swim across San Francisco Bay. This time, he has outfitted himself with a full-length wetsuit he hopes will prevent a repeat snack attack. Luckily, sharks are not a concern, he says – the number of swimmers in the water keeps them away, though he can’t say the same for the jellyfish.

To help the Eskenasys raise funds, local restaurateurs at Luna Rosa Gelato Café are collecting donations and matching them dollar for dollar. In addition, there are collection spots at The Beaded Frog and Ayers Leather in downtown Greenville along with an online donation option.

Eskenasy says two things will keep him going through the swim: the thought of the kids he’s raising money for and the things he gave up to train. “I haven’t had a drop of liquor in three years and I haven’t had an In-N-Out Burger in over two,” he said.

“And those two things are going to be waiting for him at the finish line,” Kim Eskenasy promised.

To learn more or donate, visit Robb and Kim Eskenasy’s Cancer Crushers 2012 Alcatraz Challenge site at


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