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Braxton Bilbrey

Braxton Bilbrey just turned 10 years old. Already, it’s clear—the kid has got guts, vision and stick-to-it-ness. Oh yeah, and talent.

His parents enrolled him in swim lessons at age 3; at age 7, he made history in the sport. Bilbrey recounts, “I saw the guy that set the record for being 9 [years old] that swam from Alcatraz in a magazine. And I went to my dad and said, ‘I want to swim this,’ and he said, ‘O.K., go ask your coach about what you should do.’”

The five-month training, facilitated by his coach, Joe Zemaitis, included trips to chilly Lake Pleasant to acclimate Bilbrey to sub-par conditions. On May 22, 2006, surrounded by television crews and reporters, Bilbrey became the youngest person ever to swim the 1.4-mile choppy channel from Alcatraz to San Francisco.

Bilbrey and Zemaitis wanted to use the feat as an opportunity to raise money for a cause. So, they created the local nonprofit F.A.S.T. (Foundation for Aquatic Safety and Training), which was inspired by Bilbrey. “We talked about what he wanted to do, and [Bilbrey] came up with the idea of stopping kids from dying in pools,” coach Zemaitis says. “In the beginning, we were just looking for an organization to raise money for. Then when we didn’t really have luck with that, we just decided to start our own organization.”

Bilbrey’s dedication and drive inspired many of his fellow teammates on Swim Neptune, a team started by Zemaitis, to brave the frigid bay. On their most recent Alcatraz swim (now a yearly event), approximately 50 kids participated and raised $50,000 for F.A.S.T., which utilizes a “kids saving kids” approach to drowning prevention.

Bilbrey, who trains three to four times per week, recently added another accomplishment to his list: In March, he won the 2008 Arizona State Championship for the 50-yard breaststroke in the age-10-and-under division.

However, coach Zemaitis points out, the records and wins are just the icing on the cake. He is mostly proud that Bilbrey, at such a young age, set a goal for himself, trained for it and stayed focused until the end.