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News | Oct. 20, 2017

DLA Distribution San Joaquin’s executive officer “takes the rock”

By Annette Silva DLA Distribution San Joaquin Public Affairs

Always pushing herself to exceed her physical ability, DLA Distribution San Joaquin, California’s executive officer, Air Force Capt. Dawn Pieper, recently checked another block on her list of accomplishments. Pieper completed the grueling “Take the Rock” 1.3 mile swim through the San Francisco Bay. The course started at Alcatraz Island and ended at Aquatic Park in San Francisco, California. 

Pieper says she was very excited for this challenge- one she had never taken on in her lifetime. “I have done multiple marathons, obstacle course races and sprint distance triathlons but this was different, out in the open water on my own,” she said. “I knew I would be safe based on the instruction and the practices I did in preparation of the event. It was definitely a once in a lifetime event I will never forget!”

She learned about the event through her veteran’s organization, Team Red White and Blue. The event was specifically for active duty military and veterans and was designed to give back to the veterans by offering them the opportunity to swim for free.

Pieper has always been an avid swimmer. Her mother had her in the swimming pool from the time she was just six months old. “I was floating in water before I could walk,” she said.

She started preparing for the swim three months prior. Her training consisted of swimming in a pool twice a week and travelling to San Francisco to swim in open water at least two times a month. When she was not able to swim, she would keep up with her strength training and running for endurance. 

When asked if it was strenuous, her response was, “It was definitely a challenge.” The 1.3 mile swim ended up at 1.7 miles due to zig-zagging in the water. Pieper added that at times the swimmers were spread out so she felt alone and she wasn’t swimming to the shore as quickly as she wanted to, which added some mental hurdles to overcome. However, she added that she always felt like she would finish because of her training and the confidence the course director built into the program with kayakers and angel swimmers ready to assist.

Fearing that the water would be frigid and rough, she was surprised that the conditions were fairly calm and the water was approximately 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Luckily with her wet suit, the water felt much warmer. 

Taking the time to reflect on the beauty of the bay, she actually took a break to remove her swim goggles and look out at the open area. She said the view was absolutely amazing. “I took my goggles off and did a 360 degree view of the area.  I saw the Golden Gate Bridge, the rolling hills near Sausalito, the island of Alcatraz, the Bay Bridge and then the San Francisco skyline.  It wasn’t something you could take a picture of and grasp the beauty, but it was a sight that I will always remember,” she remarked. 

This is a challenge she will always remember and be proud of, said Pieper. At the end of the swim, the Vietnam Veterans of Diablo Valley and the Nadadores Locos swim team had American flags along the beach and people cheering the swimmers on as they each swam to land. It was that very moment that she felt very proud of what she accomplished and grateful for being given an opportunity most veterans don’t get.  

Pieper feels blessed in her career and appreciates that she has been stationed in so many awesome parts of the world while serving in the Air Force. “[I’ve been stationed] from Korea to Germany and all over the United States with a few deployments in between, but the opportunities I’ve been given here [in San Joaquin] surpass so many,” she said. She concluded by saying that she encourages anyone with an inkling of a desire to do the swim to take advantage of it. 

“I got the opportunity to talk to the course director after the event and he feels so proud to be able to share this with veterans as a way to give back.  Participants have come up to him and confessed that this swim saved their life,” Pieper said. The other participants included “veteran” swimmers and newbies each year and all were excited to be a part of the journey.