To Swim San Francisco

22 miles in 9 hours, and the mental strength to finish.

“You’re so warm right now,” she told herself, over and over again. “You’re so warm…”

But in truth, it was a cold October morning and Maryam Sharifzadeh ’08 had 22 miles of treacherous waters ahead of her. Still she was focused on completing her goal: to swim the entire shoreline of San Francisco.

Her course began in the ocean at Daly City and would go around the peninsula and into the bay, ending at the Brisbane County line. Only one person, her swim director Joe Butler, had done this before. Following the World Open Water Swimming Association’s guidelines for marathon swims, Sharifzadeh wore a regular swimsuit rather than a wetsuit, and she had a support boat and kayaker trailing her through the open waters.

“These longer-distance or hard physical activities are so much more mental than physical,” Sharifzadeh says she learned. But letting her mind transcend her body is something she does every day. As an entrepreneur and owner of the business Office Yoga, she holds onsite classes at various workplaces—a concept she was exposed to as a RecLife instructor on campus. Sharifzadeh first took to the water while she was a student as well, learning how to surf and participating in club water polo, as well as swimming recreationally at La Jolla Cove and the Shores.

Yet she never knew she would swim such long distances until tragedy struck. On August 6, 2018, she woke up to a flurry of missed calls and text messages. She soon learned that her childhood friend, Nasim Ghannadan, someone she knew as a sister, had died in a plane crash.

“Nasim was so special to me, and I chose to process my grief by swimming in her honor,” Sharifzadeh says.

On her first long-distance swim, she raised over $6,000 for No Kid Hungry, a nonprofit that Ghannadan supported. “I chose to cross Lake Tahoe because it was Nasim’s favorite place on earth. But even after those 12 miles, I knew I wasn’t done,” she says.

She followed that with a relay to Catalina Island, splitting the distance with other swimmers. But now around San Francisco, she was on her own. Four hours in, as she approached where the ocean and bay meet, the waters became tumultuous and harder to swim. Sharifzadeh felt nauseous. Still, she was barely halfway done.

To get through it, she found herself setting “mini-goals,” much like how she teaches yoga students to break down harder poses into several easier ones. At the very least, she told herself, she would reach the Golden Gate Bridge. Forty-five minutes later, however, with limbs going numb under the Golden Gate, she found that she could keep going.

Her mini-goals helped her continue on past the Oakland Bay Bridge before finally reaching the Brisbane County line. At nine hours and eleven minutes, Sharifzadeh became the second person and first woman to ever swim San Francisco from end to end.

“This was about Nasim’s legacy and keeping her spirit alive,” Sharifzadeh says. “I felt her with me, helping me get across.”