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Natural Awakenings South Jersey

Working with Fear

by Marisa Incelli 

She stood, looking out at the island of Alcatraz across the San Francisco Bay. It was 6 a.m. and a thick fog masked the deep, seaweed green water before her. The air bit at her face, the only thing on her body exposed to the elements from within her wetsuit. She stood there as over loud speakers the national anthem played followed by mandatory precautionary warnings and advice about “marine life.” She takes an aside to tell me that the natural feeding grounds for great white sharks lies a mere 30 miles from their swim and sea lions and seals their prey, populating this channel between the island and main land freely. She says she is a fearful person and needed to know everything she could about what she was about to do.  

Just six months ago, Christina Patton had never been in the ocean past her knees. Now she would be swimming in cold, open water with 900 other swimmers in this annual event. She is known as the Juice Girl as she owns and runs a farm-to-cup fresh juice business in New Jersey. But today she was just another neoprene-clad, goggle-wearing and flipper-donning swimmer on a ferry bound for Alcatraz. 

They squeezed shoulder to shoulder, the sun rose over the bay, the fog cleared and her mind calculated, “not first off, not last off,” she said. Jumping five feet from the ferry into the water, if you were one of the first you had to clear the boat and tread water for as long as it took for everyone to get in.  

A rumor spread quickly that one of the kayakers following the ferry had capsized and they were trying to help her back on. Patton saw that it was the friend she brought with her that dangled like a sea otter from the flipped vessel. No time to contemplate, the captain began saying over the loudspeaker, “Go, go, go, jump away from the boat, go, go, go!” She found herself at the front of the ferry and had no more choice about her perfect placement.  

She fixed her goggles to the top of her head and jumped. The water was bitter cold, it pushed adrenaline through her. The beet, watermelon, lemon, lime and ginger juice she had finished earlier was the only thing in her stomach. She coughs as she continues her story, stopping only to tell me she thinks she has swallowed half of the San Francisco Bay. 

The whistle blew and they began, one stroke after the other, the water was choppy, big swells came and went in the 69 minutes it took her to complete the one and one-half mile channel.  

She says the actual swim was like showing up and doing her job. The two years of preparation, replete with panic attacks and disasters, failures and setbacks, were nonexistent in the minutes that passed on this day. 

I asked her what her mind was doing then, and she took a moment to tell me her “why.” Why would a 51-year-old woman who was afraid of going into the ocean past her knees be attempting this dangerous, open water swim?  

She had lost both her parents in the last year, and felt cast into an abyss of sadness. She explains, the deep loneliness took her to a place inside that frightened her even more. She made up her mind to fight her fears, picking the biggest scariest thing she could think of, and this was it.  

She says as she swam, stroke after stroke, her parents appeared by her sides holding her in love. They were there with her, with all the other hearts in the water” as she calls all of these people that were in the water with her. She put her head back down and swam with the energy of love surrounding her. She went into this two years ago depleted and afraid and came out strong with her job done and the realization that her parents were with her all along. 

You can find Christine still challenging her fears and swimming locally and, of course, juicing! For more information, visit




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