San Diego Swimmer Hopes To Benefit The Homeless By Making History

Monday, August 8, 2016
By Marissa Cabrera, Maureen Cavanaugh

All focus on athletics is centered this week at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. But one woman is determined to make history much closer to home.

Melissa Berkay, 25, hopes to become the first American to swim the Catalina Channel using the butterfly stroke. It's an effort to help the homeless in San Diego.

Berkay knows all too well what life on the streets entails. For eight months in 2014, she slept behind a thrift store in North Park.

"It was a combination of relationship and financial and job issues and lack of safety net and familial support that led to that," Berkay said. "It was definitely a growing experience I wouldn't have been able to make it through without the support I received. I'm motivated by that experience to give back to those communities and to show that a person who has been in that position can make a difference."

Berkay, who is a junior at Mills College, is raising money to support homeless shelters in the Bay area and San Diego, including God’s Extended Hand in the East Village and Rachel’s Women’s Center in downtown. So far, she’s raised $1,300.

She said she overcame homelessness by using all the lessons she learned through swimming.

"Everything I learned in the sport of swimming came into play in my life at that time," Berkay said. "I was able to coach myself and make positive affirmations in my mind, stay focused on the important things, not get distracted and I ultimately secured a job and went back to school."

Berkay will swim 20 miles from Catalina Island to Rancho Palos Verdes on Wednesday. She talks about the undertaking on KPBS Midday Edition on Monday.