What drives more than 2,000 athletes from over 50 countries to San Francisco for the 40th annual Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon (EFAT) on August 15th - one of the most unique and grueling swim bike run races on the Pro Triathlon Tour?
The usual wholesome mix of spirit, courage and determination with a dash of straightforward masochism.
But only one competitor in the crowd (that we know of) has also been curiously drawn to this event - which begins with a cold, wind-swept, 1.5 mile (1.5 mile) swim across San Francisco Bay from the famous former offshore prison - around that to end what started its putative Alcatraz inmate ancestor.
"According to my mother and grandmother, I am a direct descendant of Arthur Barker, a convicted criminal who tried to escape Alcatraz in the 1930s," says triathlete Ronnie Troyn, who felt a slight family pull when he first came Time from the race on Instagram. “I immediately noticed this incredible challenge - but also a very cool opportunity to get back into family stuff that I had heard of and that I hadn't paid much attention to in my youth. As a kid playing water polo, I had no idea who Arthur Barker was - or even who his mother was. "
Arthur Barker's mother was the infamous Depression-era detective Ma Barker, often described as the ruthless matriarch of the Barker-Karpis gang (which included two of her sons) and one of the most notorious public enemies of her time.
t everyone in the Troyn family was that eager to revisit this Barker link - which the triathlete admits it gets a little blurry on a family tree that's gnarled at a series of cryptic name changes. Strangely enough, Captain James Ketchum sits at the top of Troyn's tree, a famous 19th century Indian chief from the Delaware tribe.
“I think my grandma was always embarrassed about the Barker end of the family name and all the movies about her like Bloody Mama,” says the 46-year-old retired military veteran who lives in Southern California, who explains the context: “According to me, passed down Family papers was the mother of my grandmother Elizabeth, Neva Farrington, the daughter of Arthur Barker ... and thus the granddaughter of Ma Barker. "
Troyn wasn't expecting to talk to Men & # 39; s Journal about his alleged links to Ma Barker (killed in a hail of FBI bullets in a hideout in Ocklawaha, Florida in 1935) or Arthur Barker (killed by Alcatraz guards at the Attempting to escape prison, speaking) 1939) when he happened to mention this genealogical tidbit which was still in the process of drafting to the race organizers.
“I just made my first payment to Ancestry.com for $ 16.50,” he laughs. “w I think it's time to dig more and add a few facts. Those family lines that go back to the mid-19th century ... they can spin you in circles. "
Troyn pushed himself to complete three qualifying races prior to the EFAT - including the Ironman Arizona 70.3, which he describes as both therapeutic and the second most stressful experience of his life.
“Iraq was the first. It's the tiredest I've ever had - and the hottest, ”says Troyn, whose 20-year army career spanned five missions after September 11, including in Kuwait and Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan. "But I would say a very, very, very close second was a half-Ironman."
How does Troyn feel about Sunday's race in San Francisco - especially the Alcatraz to Marina dip?
"To be honest, man, I'm looking forward to swimming," says Troyn, who has lost and openly lost from a hefty 230 pounds to a lean, muscular 180 kilos since entering the triathlon world, in "a very dark place" to be. after some traumatic and heartbreaking military experience abroad. "A lot of my friends say, 'Dude, don't you worry about the sharks and currents moving at the speed of Michael Phelps?' A lot."
Troyn's racing goal is to crack four hours. His real goal, however, is to record everything - even if it costs him a few precious seconds.
“The real thing is, man - I'm alive. So I stop while swimming in the middle of the bay. I'm just going to beat eggs and tread a little water. I'll look around in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. Who in the world has the chance? I will honor that. Hopefully I won't get in anyone's way. "
Will Arthur Barker cross his mind when Ronnie Troyn makes his own historic crossing?
“Maybe,” he laughs. “I think about him a lot more than I suddenly was. I think we'll see. "
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