By Air Force Senior Airman Charles Rivezzo
60th Air Mobility Wing
TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., June 30, 2015 – In the early hours of June 21, Air Force Master Sgt. Andrew Mujica took to the chilly waters off Alcatraz Island and swam a mile and a half to the Crissy Field shoreline with one thing in mind: to honor his father on Father’s Day.
Wearing a full-body wetsuit and hoodie, the 38-year-old noncommissioned officer in charge of product improvement for the 60th Maintenance Group here battled currents, winds, waves, chop and frigid waters during the Alcatraz Challenge triathlon.
Mujica said when he arrived here in 2000 that he immediately became "addicted" to California’s triathlon circuit, competing in one or two events a month during the season.
A Personal Cause
But for the first time in his competitive career, the Georgia native was racing June 21 for much more than a time goal or a medal. He was racing to raise funds for a deeply personal cause: his father, Noberto Mujica, who was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis disease, better known as MG, in 2008.
MG is a chronic neuromuscular disease characterized by varying degrees of muscle weakness. For his father, Mujica said, the disorder affects everything from chewing and talking to simple facial expressions and walking.
"It's a tough disease to see," he added. "Witnessing how this has affected him over the years, I just wanted to do something more to help."
About a week before the event, Mujica said, he searched the Internet for ways to raise funds for MG research and share his story. By the day of the event, he had raised nearly $600. "It just so happened that this race was on Father's Day,” he said, “and I thought this would be a great opportunity to honor him."
A Difficult Swim
For 56 minutes and 53 seconds, Mujica honored his father in the cloud-covered waters of the San Francisco Bay, enduring what he called the most difficult swim he had ever done.
"It's a little bit intimidating, because you have nothing to support you out there," he said. "At one point, you are three-quarters of a mile away from any shoreline. It's just you and the water, and there is definitely no bottom of the pool to be looking at."
Though he’s accustomed to the physical exhaustion associated with open-water swims, the whitecap waves crashing down on him made it difficult for him to breathe and get into a rhythm, Mujica said. On that day, he added, he relied on something more than experience and training. He relied on his father’s strength.
"Whenever I would get tired and needed that extra motivation, I'd think about him," he said. "He gave me the strength to push a little harder."
Mujica did not compete in the run portion of the Alcatraz Challenge. He just wanted to simply complete the swim one more time before his impending move to a new duty assignment, he explained.
"I started to kick myself when I saw the runners on the drive home," he said with a laugh. "But I just wanted to do the swim one last time. I'll probably never be swimming from Alcatraz Island again, so I just wanted to take my time, soak it all in and enjoy the view of the Golden Gate [Bridge] from the middle of the bay."
After arriving on the shoreline of Crissy Field, all that was left was a simple text and phone call to his father.
"He was proud," Mujica said. "I just wanted to raise awareness about MG any way I could [and] to inspire others to try and do the same. This was my way of honoring my father on Father's Day."