Sacramento swimmers make big splash at Golden Gate Sharkfest

Sacramento swimmers won big at this weekend’s Golden Gate Sharkfest race in the San Francisco Bay.

Jesuit High School student Eric Fugit, 16, won first overall in the race, finishing the 1.6 mile swim in 27 minutes and 37 seconds. Two of his teammates, Maggie, 55, and Frank, 52, Roepke, placed first in their respective age categories.

Brian Murray, 47, of Fair Oaks was just 5.3 seconds behind Fugit.

“I’ve never won something like this or been honored like this before,” Fugit said. “I had people I didn’t even know coming and congratulating me and asking me about the race after.”

In addition to participating in the Sharkfest team, Fugit is a member of Jesuit’s swim team as well as the year-round swim team at Spare Time Aquatics in Sacramento.

The race begins when swimmers board a ferry in Sausalito and ride to the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge at 8 a.m.. From there, swimmers take off at 9 a.m., swimming diagonally under the bridge between the two pillars before finishing at Fort Baker. It is key for swimmers to make it past the second pillar of the bridge before 9:20, according to Frank Roepke, because the tide turns against swimmers and starts pulling them back out in the wrong direction.

The Roepkes, who are the Masters coaches for the Sacramento Sharkfest team, said that they trained by swimming 1,200 to 15,000 yards a week both in a pool and in open water at Lake Natoma and the Bay. Maggie said that swimming at Lake Natoma was key to getting used to the cold water conditions that they would experience in the race. Both are long time swimmers, and the couple actually met when Maggie was Frank’s swim coach at Sacramento State. The team also included Joyce Leary, 41, who placed second in her division.

Both the Roepkes and Fugit have done the Alcatraz Sharkfest race multiple times and decided that the time had come for them to tackle the more advanced Golden Gate race.

“The Golden Gate Sharkfest is not for novices, it’s definitely harder and more challenging,” Frank Roepke said. “It even warns you on the site when you register that it’s not for novice swimmers.”

Fugit’s father, Mike Fugit, 52, also competed in the race and placed fourth in his age division, finishing just 40 seconds shy of winning a medal. Fugit said that he enjoys doing races like these with his dad as it is a fun and unique bonding experience for them.

Fugit said that while he finished “just out of the money,” he is extremely proud of his son and enjoyed the experience of the race anyways.

“In the middle of the race when it’s the choppiest, the waviest, almost all of us turned on our backs and did the backstroke under the Golden Gate Bridge,” Mike Fugit said.

While the race is challenging even for the most accomplished of swimmers, it was just the beginning of an action-packed day for the Fugits as they had to return promptly to Sacramento for Fugit to attend Jesuit’s Homecoming dance that same night. But Fugit’s father said that it was worth it for his son to win an honor like this.

“His big sister is at the U.S. Naval Academy and has been getting straight A’s, so he’s been kind of in her shadow for the last year and a half,” Mike Fugit said. “It’s kind of cool for him to have his moment now.”

Emily Zentner: 916-321-1074, @emilymzentner