School swim team prepares for 32-mile trek between Italian islands

SAN DIEGO -- Six students from San Diego will travel to Europe to swim between two Italian islands. The Zombies Swim Team, ages 10 to 16, all started as beginners and have grown into accomplished swimmers thanks in part to the practice of a certain meditation.

Sea Change Preparatory, an innovative "micro-school" with roughly eight students located just steps from the beach, encourages swimming as part of their curriculum.

"The swim team (gives us) the ability to get every kid to recognize that they don't have any limits," said John Allock, the school's Director of Mindfulness. "And so our swims are swims that no one has ever done before, largely."

Relay swims across the English Channel, the Molokai Coast in Hawaii and solo swims from Alcatraz to San Francisco are just a few the Zombies Swim Team have completed.

"I love the water," said Faith Irvine, a senior swimmer. "Waves are scary, but eventually after like three years of really pushing myself and having the help from the group and the school and everything, I really found strength in swimming."

Much of that strength comes from the teaching of mindfulness. By definition, it means the ability to recognize thoughts and feelings and act accordingly.

"So when you get out in the water, those thoughts that pop into your head, sharks, other scary things -- not really a real risk in the places we swim -- you need to deal with those, and so guess what? You have to breath," said Allock.

Swimmers say fear will always be a factor, but learning to mentally push through it ultimately gets you to the finish line.

"You look at how scared you were, or the doubt you had during the swim, but then when you finish it's just the best feeling in the world," said Irvine.

"It's done a lot," said James Qian, an eighth grade swimmer. "I'm a lot more confident now than I was. I know that I can do it now instead of just like, 'Okay, maybe I'll do this."

The Zombies next challenge comes in Italy. The six-person team will swim 32 nautical miles from the island of Ischia to the island of Capri, rotating every hour.

"Every one of these kids, when they apply to college or do whatever else they want to do in life, can say to themselves, 'I can do something no one else has ever done before -- and it applies to all the other areas in their life,'" said Allock.

And it's that sense of accomplishment that gives these swimmers the confidence to conquer any ocean. "It raises your self esteem and your confidence up and it's a very amazing thing you like to share with people," said Irvine. "It's kind of life a new world for me," added Qian. "It just opens up a whole new world of possibilities that I could go through."

The Zombies Swim Team leaves May 27 for Italy and will spend about two weeks in Europe.