SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Third Annual Pennock Island Challenge Raises Funds
for the American Diabetes Association
By Nancy Coggins


August 31, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - The opening of the third Pennock Island Challenge's 8.2-mile long-distance swim race began in the open waters of the Inside Passage on Sunday, August 6th. Twenty-one swimmers were off at 10 AM to face the challenge of swimming around Pennock Island to raise diabetes awareness and research funds for the American Diabetes Association.

"Nobody, no town, no state across this nation holds a swim in open waters to benefit the American Diabetes Association (ADA) like Ketchikan!" exclaimed Phoebe O'Connell from ADA.

jpg Pennock Island swimmers...

Swimmers and navigators learn Pennock Island Challenge racecourse.
Credit: Photo by Kathy Schulz ©2006

For map lovers, Pennock Island is at the southern end of the Alexander Archipelago in the Tongass National Forest in front of the small town of Ketchikan, Alaska. The island is flanked on its west side by Gravina Island, the site of Ketchikan's airport, and Revillagigedo Island on its east side, the location of the town of Ketchikan. (Click to view map)

On that cloudy day, salmon were jumping and swimmers, splashing! Swim Race Director, William Schulz, had again orchestrated Ketchikan's Pennock Island Challenge (PIC) swim event that helps ADA come closer to a cure for diabetes. Each swimmer in the 55- to 60-degree Fahrenheit water with his/her support kayak leaving buoy #2, began swimming across the south end of Pennock Island, going from west to east. Then they would swim northwest up the east channel (between Pennock and Revillagigedo Islands) to the top of the island, and finally southeast down the west channel between Pennock and Gravina Islands.

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Swimmers tread water, awaiting start of Pennock Island Challenge.
Credit: Photo by Chris Wilhelm ©2006

Schulz had publicized the event on the Ketchikan ADA Team's Pennock Island Challenge on Team ADA website which had been designed by Rainforest Web Design and was hosted by the people at The information that this Pennock Island Challenge swim was open to solo swimmers and 2- to 4-person relay teams was picked up by at least by a dozen other websites long before its registration closing date of July 15, 2006. Prospective swimmers could have read about the Pennock Island Challenge swim race at websites such as "The Swimmer's Ear," "United States Masters Swimming," "Ocean Ducks," "Google Groups: AKMS," or "Ketchikan, Alaska Online."

After first discovering the Pennock Island Challenge on one of these websites, both a 4-person relay team (Carrie Demmay, Scott Griffith, Kristin Jones and Laurie Lucas) from Juneau, Alaska, and a solo swimmer (Michelle Macy) from Portland, Oregon, became participants in the Pennock Island Challenge swim. The team's journey here started last year when they had contacted Martin Reichgott, the Ketchikan Killer Whales Swim Club Head Coach, who encouraged them to come; this year the four of them came and swam in the event.

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Pennock Island Challenge Race Director William Schulz strikes a pre-race pose.
Credit: Photo by Chris Wilhelm©2006

Macy became one of the three Pennock Island Challenge solo swimmers after lots of emailing back and forth with Schulz. She won a prize for having traveled the greatest distance to take the PIC challenge. She started practicing for the race at the beginning of July, but after her experience in the PIC, she would not recommend (for most people) starting training so close to the race date. By planning ahead, next year, Michelle hopes to avoid some of the soreness she experienced this year, and she'll be better prepared overall.

Macy summarizes, "Though Swimming the Pennock was definitely an amazing physical challenge, it was the people I met, either by supporting the event or participating, who made it unforgettable. I felt truly sad to leave on Monday, as I felt so welcomed in Ketchikan."

Schulz' passion for holding the PIC as a fundraiser for the ADA organization undoubtedly helped bring in a lot of the 31 sponsors who donated time, products and money into the spirit of the swim. For both Southeast Sea Kayaks and Terral Wanzer it was their third year of support, and for Tyler Rental, its first. The other 28 sponsoring companies, organizations, and individual people have helped make this event a big fundraiser for two years.

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Start of Pennock Island Challenge swimming event.
Credit: Photo by Kathy Schulz ©2006

Here are the celebrated donors:

  • Adolph Kiefer & Associates (caps for the swimmers & part of the 3rd place raffle prize, a swim bag and towel)
  • Alaska Airlines Inc (the 1st place raffle prize, two round-trip AA plane tickets to anywhere the company flies, including Mexico and Hawaii & $1,000 cash)
  • Baranof Skiff Excursions (a safety boat)
  • Best Western The Landing/Jeremiah's (the start boat)
  • Cape Fox Lodge (part of the 2nd place raffle prize, a $150 dinner gift certificate & part of the 3rd place raffle prize, a jacket and a cap
  • E.C. Phillips & Sons Inc (a fish donation for the banquet)
  • Food Services of America (banquet food)
  • Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie #162 (a monetary donation) - Fraternal Order of Eagles Auxiliary #162 (a monetary donation)
  • Guardian Flight Inc (a safety boat with a medic aboard & a monetary donation)
  • Judge Henry Keene (a purchase of lots of raffle tickets)
  • KetchiCandies (3-pound box of chocolates)
  • Ketchikan General Hospital (a monetary donation)
  • Ketchikan Visitors Bureau (welcome gifts for the out-of-town swimmers: Brochures, granola bars, and bags & a PIC listing on the Team ADA website)
  • KTKN & Gateway Country radio (4.5 hours of live radio race coverage and ads at a reduced rate)
  • Madison Lumbar & Hardware Inc (a monetary donation)
  • Narrows Inn Restaurant & Marina (a lodging discount for swimmers)
  • Northwest CruiseShip Association (a monetary donation)
  • Parnassus Books (Book, "If You Were Here, I Would Know Your Name," a bookmark, a bag of Raven's Brew coffee, and a mug with an Alaska native design)
  • Rainforest Web Design (the design of Team ADA website)
  • SitNews (free advertising linked to website)
  • Southeast Alaska Pilots' Association (a monetary donation)
  • Southeast Aviation (part of the 2nd raffle prize, a flight seeing trip for four)
  • Southeast OB/GYN Services (a monetary donation)
  • Southeast Sea Kayaks (an escort boat & a kayaker) - Debby and Michael Spence (a monetary donation)
  • Steamers at the Dock (banquet food preparation and catering)
  • Tyler Rental Inc (part of the 3rd place raffle prize, a $100 gift certificate)
  • Terral Wanzer (a monetary donation)
  • Wells Fargo Bank (a monetary donation).

jpg Kayaker and swimmer

Kayaker Gayle Nixon navigates for swimmer William Schulz.
Credit: Photo by Chris Wilhelm ©2006

With Terry Wanzer skippering the start boat, "The Annabelle," from The Landing, the race got off to a "screaming" beginning. Everyone on the boat literally screamed, "GO," at the swimmers! Three solos and six relay-team swimmers (one each from the two 2-person, 3-person and 4-person teams) started the PIC swim race adventure. One veteran swimmer was overheard to have said the first five minutes of the open-water swimming race would be the hardest.

The water surface was fairly calm, and the wind negligible. The sky held its gray clouds overhead all day, and no precipitation fell. The swimmers took advantage of the six-foot tide, which slightly assisted them as they swam with it, counterclockwise around Pennock Island.

Each swimmer had his/her own kayaker, who did all the navigating of the racecourse. At the Captain's Meeting the night before in The Landing, Bugge's Beach had been the suggested drop-in for launching the kayaks. The kayakers served as the supply point for the swimmers' energy drinks - whatever each swimmer had chosen. And kayak-maker, Mike Rath, was out there for the first time this year, watching and willing to help with the race.

jpg swimmer

Swimmer Britta Christensen receives warm water.
Credit: Photo by Kathy Schulz ©2006

Besides a kayak, each relay team had its own escort boat, which provided its swimmers with a safe area for light stretching, mental focus, and a source for warm-water down-the-back "pours" to keep them warm. It was up to the members of each team to decide their time intervals for switch-offs.

Then there were three safety boats positioned at strategic points along the racecourse. Guardian Flight's boat, with a medic aboard, was skippered by Chris Rousell and stationed at the north end of Pennock Island. "The Yacht," skippered by Bryan Schulz and Amanda Skyles was located in the west channel; and the Baranof Excursions boat, skippered by Mike Cessnun, in the east channel.

In case any swimmer felt "buggy" in the water, calling Mayday was the rule, and it would have been the end of the race for that swimmer. Thankfully, all swimmers avoided getting over chilled. Wearing wetsuits and good training may have helped 19 of them, and building up extra endurance may have helped the 2 who did not. Note: Three years ago during the first PIC, its lone participant, William Schulz, had disproved the myth that swimming around Pennock Island might cause death from hypothermia. Hence, both last year's and this year's PICs have been very successful, attracting a grand total of 45 swimmers.

Requiring an entry fee of $125 to cover the costs of a cap, t-shirt, banquet and award, the August 6, 2006, PIC swim race was regarded as a serious one. The swimmers trained between one and three months for this PIC ADA fundraiser, and 27 companies and 4 individuals came forward with mega donations to support it.

All participants raised $13,111 for ADA, and Britta Christensen, the event's highest fundraiser, won a prize. Other raffle-ticket sellers were Kathy and William Schulz, Janel Wright, Janet Hanna, and Gretchen Klein. With part of this money, Ketchikan will be able to send two children who have diabetes to ADA-operated Camp Kushtaka on the Kenai Peninsula. This 5-day resident camp, located on Kenai Lake in Snug Harbor near Cooper Landing, reassures each child that he is not the only one with diabetes, and gives him a chance to share good times and camaraderie with his peers.

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Pennock Island cut-off.
Credit: Photo by Chris Wilhelm ©2006

The day after the Pennock Island Challenge race, Janel Wright, who volunteers a lot of her time working on many ADA committees and as an advocate for ADA causes, held a diabetes-information workshop for Ketchikan's diabetic residents. Her "Being Safe at School" program focused on how parents can help children who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Parents came away from her workshop with a good idea of the resources available to them and the knowledge of how to effectively get their children adequate diabetic care in school.

Wright, at the end of the PIC swim race, had been one of the three timers to record the times of these swimmers as they headed down its last stretch, returning to buoy #2. The other two timers were Kathy Schulz, wife of Race Director William Schulz, and Janet Hanna, Ketchikan General Hospital Diabetic Educator.

A banquet followed the PIC race to treat its hungry swimmers to some Alaskan wild-caught salmon and halibut, and other delicious foods. Members of the Killer Whales youth swim club (USA Swimming, its parent organization) and Gretchen Klein (member of Team ADA, and the person who gave the white-linen-covered dining tables that "special touch" - red roses and KetchiCandies chocolates) had set up the banquet tables in Ketchikan's Ted Ferry Civic Center for the dinner. Steamer's owners, Katie and Timothy Montgomery, had prepared the sumptuous food for the catered buffet. And the all-important clean-up crew consisted of Ketchikan Killer Whales Swim Club children and their parents.

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Swimmers turn corner for home.
Credit: Photo by Kathy Schulz ©2006

Following William Schulz' slide show of the swim, which had benefited from the assistance of IT expert Michelle Macy, the raffle prizewinners were announced. The first prize went to Charlotte Glover, second to Mary Schulz, and third, Marna Cessnun.

Gretchen Klein then recognized Ketchikan's Diabetic Educator Janet Hanna for all the time she has given over the years to getting the word out about Ketchikan's five ADA fundraisers: The Pennock Island Challenge swim; Totem To Totem Run for Diabetes; Fourth of July celebration and Blueberry Festival event (both of which had booths with ADA "Healthy Eating" kids' bracelets to encourage children and adults to learn how to make healthy food choices); and the year-round project with the Ketchikan Lions Club that identifies people who need but can't afford eye exams and glasses (they are contacted by Hanna to help them apply for an eyeglasses scholarship). Hanna meets diabetic challenges head on with solutions.

Then, Swimmers and their friends gave a standing ovation to Pennock Island Challenge swim Race Director William Schulz, one person who has changed the town of Ketchikan, Alaska, forever. Up and coming will be next year's PIC, scheduled for mid-August of 2007. This fourth PIC will have room for 30 solos and 20 relays, so spread the word to your friends who love a challenge, want an adventure, and are eager to swim in Ketchikan's pristine waters.

jpg wimmers at banquet

Swimmers at banquet. From Left to Right, Back row: David Gray, Michele Macy, Glyn Seaberg, Greg Styrk, Larry Pullin, Don Mitchel, Bill Elberson, Loren Prosser, Chris Wilhelm, Cheryl Elliott; Middle row: Debby Spence, Britta Christensen, Laurie Lucas; Front row: Michael Spence, Susan Doherty, Fred Jorgensen; Not shown: Carrie Demmay, Elizabeth Einset, Scott Griffith, Kristin Jones, and William Schulz.
Credit: Photo by Nancy Coggins ©2006

After ADA spokesperson Janel Wright had finished giving her heart-warming personal diabetic story and saying how much she appreciated Ketchikan's efforts and contributions to ADA, the awards were presented to the swimmers. Then, relay swimmer, Don Mitchel, came up with a time challenge from the 3-person "Slack Tide" team. Reading from his hand-written notes on a napkin, he listed the team's four "handicaps."

Starting with "Slack Tide's" finish time of 4 hours, 34 minutes, and 4 seconds, Mitchel then subtracted a calculated number of minutes for each handicap. Forty minutes came off for the age differential between the oldest and youngest swimmers. Thirty-seven minutes were taken away after figuring the average age of the team members and subtracting it from the age of the youngest PIC swimmer. One hundred minutes were subtracted from the number of medical operations that had been performed on its team members multiplied by ten. And forty-five minutes were subtracted for the number of them wearing glasses multiplied by fifteen for each set of glasses. Technically, if these four handicaps had been allowed, they would have swum around Pennock Island in 20 minutes! No, with his resubmission, it was 15 minutes!

Now, that's a "challenge"!


Swim Results:

pdfFINAL SWIM RESULTS Chart by Pennock Island Challenge Race Director William Schulz

Related Story:

Pennock Island's Eight-mile Challenge, More Than An Adventure By Nancy Coggins - And they all jumped in!

Into the 57° F. open waters of the Tongass Narrows dove 24 enthusiastic swimmers, who, on August 28, 2005, were accepting a challenge. They had chosen the demanding task of swimming in a pre-organized eight-mile race around Pennock Island for the American Diabetes Association (ADA) benefit. The circuit took those trained swimmers from 2 hours 36 minutes 2 seconds to 4 hours 16 minutes 4 seconds to complete the Pennock Island Challenge. - More...
October 17, 2005

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Nancy Coggins is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.

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