Fresno State Professor Albert Valencia is wrapping up six months of intensive training so he can swim the mile-and-a-half from Alcatraz to San Francisco’s Aquatic Park during the annual Sharkfest on June 10.

It’s the third time in five years that Valencia will join the chilly San Francisco Bay swim, and this time he will be raising money to buy textbooks for students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford them.

As director of the Mentoring Institute at California State University, Fresno, Valencia has seen firsthand how the need to buy a new tire, fill a prescription or fix a computer – inconvenient expenses for most people – “can appear to be devastating for many students.”

Valencia, who is an associate professor with the Department of Counseling, Special Education and Rehabilitation in the Kremen School of Education and Human Development, likes to stay active. “I have been in some kind of training all of my life,” said Valencia.

He played football and ran track in high school, played basketball in Los Angeles city leagues and had one season of Class A baseball. Valencia has trained to a black belt in martial arts, run competitively for 12 years, competed in triathlon (swim, run, bike) 14 years, enjoyed skydiving, trekking the John Muir Trail through the Sierra, surfing and, now, rough-water endurance swimming.

“The hardest aspects of the swim are the physical elements of training and nutrition, and, of course, the psychological part of swimming over a deep channel, in cold water, against a formidable current,” said Valencia.

“I view the swim as a metaphor for going to college, where students are swimming in a body of water that is new and scary. Yet, with faith and discipline, pulling themselves through the water one stroke at a time, inhaling and exhaling like a slow metronome, and keeping their eyes on the prize, it can, and it does, get done,” he added.

Valencia saw in his deep-water swimming passion an opportunity to help.

“I would like to raise funds that can be used exclusively to assist students to overcome a momentary but significant obstacle to purchasing textbooks,” said Valencia. He noted that textbooks cost $70 to $80 on average and classes often require more than one book.

Valencia has set up a committee to receive donations to his Swimming for Books program, both to be accountable and to ensure funds are distributed as Valencia intends. Dr. Joe Parks, a professor of education, chairs the committee, which will devise guidelines for assistance and post them on the Mentoring Institute Web site. Funds will be tracked and audited by the California State University, Fresno Foundation, a tax-exempt organization.

Donations may be sent to the foundation with checks made out to CSUF Foundation Swimming For Books, 5245 N. Backer, M/S PB137, Fresno, CA, 93740.

Sharkfest 2007 is the 15th annual re-enactment of an escape in 1963 by three inmates of Alcatraz Island, a federal prison from 1934 until it was closed in 1963. The escape by Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin was popularized in the 1979 Clint Eastwood movie, “Escape from Alcatraz.”

The three prisoners were not accounted for, although the FBI listed them as “presumed drowned,” and a legend was born.

About 1,000 swimmers participate in Sharkfest each year, paying $120 to take the morning swim. This year’s event was sold out more than six months ago.

Details about the Mentoring Institute are online:

Sharkfest details online: