Monday, May 11, 2009

Swimmer plans 'escape’ from Alcatraz to help a clinic in Haiti

Swimmer plans 'escape’ from Alcatraz to help a clinic in Haiti
Monday, May 11, 2009
By Jim Schlosser

Special to the News & Record
Accompanying Photos
Photo Caption: Susan Odom Midgett at the Vilaj Espwa orphanage in Les Cayes, Haiti.
Want To Help What: Escape from Alcatraz swim to raise money for a medical-dental clinic for Vilaj Espwa, an orphanage in Les Cayes, Haiti.

When: Aug. 15

Goal: $100,000

Send to: Donations may be made through nonprofit Theo’s Work, in care of, 2303 W. Market St., Greensboro, 27403.

More information: Send an e-mail to or visit www.sosforhaiti.blogspot.­com

What do you think? 1 comment(s) Read other visitors' comments and post your own. Susan Odom Midgett intends to do what many prisoners failed at miserably. She’ll swim from Alcatraz Island through the cold, choppy waters of San Francisco Bay to the mainland, 1.5 miles away.

Known as “The Rock,” Alcatraz was a notorious federal penitentiary from 1934 until 1963. Inmates included Al Capone, “Machine Gun” Kelly and Robert Stroud, who is better known as “The Birdman of Alcatraz.”

Guards shot dead at least six inmates who tried to escape. Twenty-three others were captured near or in the water. Two disappeared, likely devoured by sharks. Alcatraz was escape-proof, the feds boasted.

Midgett isn’t out for exercise and spectacular scenery. Her goal is to raise $100,000for a medical-dental clinic in Haiti. She’ll join 800 others in the annual “Escape from Alcatraz” swim Aug. 15. They’ll hit the water from the island’s edge. Safety boats will follow to pick up the cold and weary. Midgett doesn’t expect to be one of those.

“I’m a big girl, I can do it,’' says the petite 44-year-old mother of two, a former lifeguard, swimming teacher and coach at various local pools. She pays no attention to Mark Twain’s alleged quip, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

Midgett lives in Northern Shores, next to Lake Jeannette. The lake might seem ideal for training, but swimming is banned. She swims 1.5 miles of laps at indoor pools. She’ll soon switch to the Lake Jeannette club’s outdoor pool.

Her decision to try the swim came after a Greensboro friend did it twice. Midgett thought the adventure would be ideal for raising money for Vilaj Espwa (Hope Village) in Haiti.

The facility helps orphans by giving them training, food, medical care and housing — a safe house from Haiti’s wretched poverty. Father Mark Boisvert founded Espwa 11 years ago. Boisvert is the brother-in-law of Solaris restaurant owner Jack Reynolds of Greensboro, a friend of Susan and her husband, Rob Midgett.

After a meager start, Espwa now houses 600 children on 1,000 acres. Donations keep it open. In addition to its children, Espwa feeds all who come on foot or by donkey. It serves 3,000 meals a day. Likewise, the new clinic will treat those from outside Espwa.

Doctors volunteer a week or two each year. Some are from Greensboro.

She says Haitians die daily from causes that wouldn’t be a threat here.

Haiti lacks garbage service and its people drink filthy water. Midgett has been raising money through her church, First Presbyterian and by speaking to organizations and civic clubs, including Gate City Rotary Club, whose president is Rob Midgett.

“I really think I can get it,” she says of the daunting amount of money she hopes to raise. “Too many things have fallen in place. I think it was meant to be.

“I can’t think that it is not going to be successful. I can’t go down that road. Greensboro is a great caring community.

“I’ve seen the suffering. That gives me the strength to keep at it.”

Her aim is to have raised the money by the time she dives into the bay. Her family, including her two sons, will be waiting ashore near Fisherman’s Wharf.

But the real celebration will come, she says, “when I go back and cut that ribbon for the clinic.”

Contact Jim Schlosser at 601-9879 or

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