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San Diego Swimmer Hopes To Benefit The Homeless By Making History

This undated photo shows Melissa Berkay.
Allie Fox
This undated photo shows Melissa Berkay.

San Diego Swimmer Hopes To Benefit The Homeless By Making History
San Diego Swimmer Hopes To Benefit The Homeless By Making History GUEST: Melissa Berkay, junior, Mills College

All focus on athletics is centered this week in Brazil at the Olympics, but one woman is determined to break a record much closer to home. Melissa Berkay hopes become the first American to swim the Catalina channel using the butterfly stroke. It is a effort to raise money to help the homeless in San Diego. That is a cause she has first-hand experience with. Joining me is Melissa Berkay . Welcome. Hello. Did you time to swim to coincide with Olympics? No, I did not. The available pilot had an opening slot on the date of August 10 and I happen to have time to submit my application prior to the date so it was by chance. How long the swim is a Catalina channel? Is approximately 20 miles plus or minus a possibility of not swimming in a straight line. I was going to ask you if there are any challenges associated with it? Is that changing wind and tide something that may be a challenge for you? Definitely. It looks like my start time will be around 9 PM to 12 AM on the night of the 10th. So depending on when the conditions have, down is when I would start. They are definitely less prominent than during the day. The morning the wind picks up. I understand you are making the swim to raise money for the homeless in San Diego . Why? Last semester after a long break from school I went back to college and chose Mills college. I was inspired by the students here in the faculty and staff and the professors. I was inspired by their commitment and it motivated me to do something that was personally motivated as well like to to pass of having experience in the obstacle I got creative and I came up with the idea and decided to go forth with starting to fund raise. So far it has been going pretty well. Let me stop you. You were homeless yourself, is that right? Four yes. For approximately 8 months in 2014. You were homeless in San Diego? Four yes. In the city near the Gaslamp Quarter and back and forth between the North Park area due to specific resources being available in both areas, guess. I think when most people picture individuals living on the streets I don't picture someone like you. Someone who was pursuing a college education. So what are the big misconceptions you think people have about the other people who are homeless? Just like anything. There are stereotypes. However there are always exceptions. In my case there were various uncontrollable factors in my part that contributed to that result in my typing out there. However, it was kind of a growth promoting experience for me. So I got to kind of be a part of the community and figure out the members of the community and there are a lot of veterans out there and most of the time it's due to lack of support. That point in time that is what I experienced due to not having a network of support after a job loss in my part. A lot of the other people that I met did it have anybody at all. They had some problems and didn't have any guidance to get back on the right track and got lost. So most of the people that I met out there are good people, but just have a lot of problems and needs personal attention. There aren't a lot of misconceptions. Most people think that they are lazy or don't want to get help. It is quite the opposite. Most of the time they are afraid. You credit your trading as a swimmer for getting you through that experience, don't you? I do. It is really important to have a open-minded every situation you have in life. And not difficult situation I had to keep a positive mindset in perspective. Perspective was the key to my survival at that time. So I would think if my coach told me to swim literally 8 miles sprinting with only 15 seconds rest on command with just a 32nd window to go, I can definitely get through this. I would in that and especially all of the inspirational athletes that I had trained with. And someone once find out more about this fund raising working a go? Four I have a GoFundMe page going on right now. I have links on that page to each of the organizations that I'm fund raising for. Rachel's women's center in San Diego I'm also fund raising for Jackie's Place a center in San Francisco. I've been speaking with Melissa Berkay . She hopes to become the first American to swim the Catalina channel using the butterfly stroke. Ague so much. Thank you.

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.

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