Big Bend 50

Three years ago, I committed to swimming the English Channel in support of young adult cancer patients and survivors and in memory of my beloved NYU swim coach, Lauren Beam: a friend, a sister, a wife, and a mentor. Upon reaching the shores of France last summer, I knew that moment was the culmination of my battle with cancer and simultaneously the start of something incredible. I just did not know what exactly that “something” was.

In leaving the west coast for landlocked west Texas to fulfill an exciting work opportunity, it was not something that I thought would follow me here. This summer, however, cancer again struck a chord close to my heart. Caitlin Murray, one of the most admired and adored young people in Marfa, and whom I have the pleasure of working beside at the Judd Foundation, has been diagnosed with colon cancer at age 29.

At first, I wasn’t sure how to react to the news and let my emotions take over. There is no water in west Texas, true. But with land as wild and free as the Pacific, what do you do?


A 50-mile ultra-marathon through Big Bend Ranch State Park taking place on January 18th as part of the 2015 Big Bend 50 Event ( Geographically remote with over 2,000 feet of rugged elevation gain, unpredictable weather patterns, and a wide variety of wildlife, it will undoubtedly be a challenge. But as I’ve said before, nothing equates to a battle with cancer.

I’ll be running for Caitlin and the rest of my peers who are presently battling for their lives against cancer – a place I know all too well. All funds raised through this journey will once again benefit First Descents (

One of my favorite things about being in west Texas is the culture’s natural inclination towards community in the fullest sense of the word. Whether it’s a 6-man football game at the local high school or a blessing of pets by the town’s pastor, everyone shows up.

That said, I’m also thrilled to announce:

  • Two friends have already committed to run the event’s no-less-daunting 30k, also for Caitlin and First Descents.
  • Working together with the race director and local high school coaches, the Big Bend 50 Event will soon include a relay category (5 x 10k). This way, it will allow for more people to be physically involved and in turn, garner more support for the cause.
  • Depending on the timeline of Caitlin’s treatment, we will be hosting a “Welcome Home” celebration in Marfa together with live music, great BBQ, and an auction to include local crafts and everything else the area is known for.

Over the course of the next few months, I’ll be posting updates here and to my other social media accounts. If you’re interested in how you can help, maybe even participating in the Big Bend 50 event, please contact me at allidefran at

Thank you!

English Channel – Recap.


11hrs 14 min, 28 August 2013. 1st Italian lady to swim the English Channel.

Brief Timeline:
2am: depart Folkestone Harbor on the Masterpiece
with Fred Mardle and crew
3am: start at Samphire Hoe, UK
2pm: land at Cap-Gris-Nez, France

Brian Finn, ATC (New Jersey)
Sally Minty-Gravett (Jersey)
Alice Harvey (Jersey)
Simon “Sumo” Jacob (England)

Estimated total distance: 28 miles
with jellyfish, tankers, pirate ships;
10-14 mph winds, 18 mph gusts;
& 1-3 meter seas.

FAQ: “Why First Descents?”

In one short week, I leave for England. It is a time of rest and final preparations. A time to give thanks for my many blessings and a time to reflect on the task ahead.

When I first committed to the Channel nearly two years ago, it was to pay it forward. To say thank you when I couldn’t say thank you enough. To Lauren, for being far more than a swim coach. To my family, who made sure I got where I needed to be. To my friends, who sat next to me in the hospital when I could not have been more ill.

And to give back. For all of the young adults with cancer who are still fighting for their lives. To let them know that someone is fighting for them. To give them the strength they may not have known they had and inspiration to defy their illness, from a place I have personally been and with a mere roll of the die could very well still be.

Brad Ludden, the founder/CEO of First Descents, says it best:

Along the way there are bound to be some trying times, and in those times I’ll pause to reflect on why I’m doing this. I’m doing it because there is 1 young adult diagnosed with cancer in the US every 8 minutes. Because their lives are forever changed by something they don’t deserve and did nothing to get. Because they need an adventure now more than ever. Because FD will provide that adventure to them free of charge. And, most importantly, because if I don’t, they’ll be left to face their cancer on their own, and that’s something that nobody should ever have to do.

Thank you for your support in this challenge. I truly couldn’t do this without you and hope you realize the impact your support has on my swim and the lives of my peers with cancer that I’m swimming for.

Semana Nautica 6mi Event x2

We took a medium-long swim in Ventucky on Saturday.  Visitors and locals were out in abundance for Pirate Days and the Surf Rodeo, so we decided to start from the Fairgrounds and lap around at the Harbor.  Quite a bit of chop, some currents, and no sun.  Surfers were out in gloves and booties; all I had was a Jolyn two-piece.  It was good day.

Then on Sunday, we cruised up to Goleta (Santa Barbara) for the Semana Nautica 6 mile event.  There were 45-entrants, several I knew and others I was excited to meet, mostly from the Ventura/Laguna open water swimming circles.  We would race from Goleta Park to Arroyo Burro Beach in a route that took us out deep as the coastline created a bay.  Initially, it looked like a beautiful day.  I was excited to swim roundtrip.

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T-minus 6weeks


6 weeks, approx 250miles of swimming, and countless hours of preparation remain until I leave for England.

Thank you very much to everyone who has donated already. While Channel swims are costly ventures, it only takes $1000 to send a young adult cancer patient/survivor like me on an outdoor adventure with First Descents. Last year, I gave $2000 to Team FD. My goal is to at least match that this year, but I think we can do better.

Time to light a fire on #OutLivingIt.

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FAQ: “What is open water swimming?”

The Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA) is the international governing body of swimming, diving, water polo, synchronized swimming and open water swimming (OWS).

According to FINA rules, “OWS shall be defined as any competition that takes place in rivers, lakes, oceans or water channels except for 10km events… OWS marathon swimming shall be defined as any 10km event in open water competitions.”