First published in the Aug. 6 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
By Natalie Miranda
Birthdays usually entail gift-giving, singing around a decorative cake and blowing out its candles to make a wish; however, when Jim Zinger turns a year older, his favorite pastime is plunging into the frigid temperatures of the open ocean without a wetsuit.
Eighty-year-old Zinger, who said he otherwise isn’t big on celebrating his special day, adopted the tradition of doing the so-called Alcatraz Challenge — a roughly 2-mile swim from Alcatraz Island to mainland San Francisco — after observing it on TV for the first time in 2007.
This year’s aquatic endeavor marked Zinger’s third swim from the historic Bay-area landmark, his first time at the age of 65, followed by 76 and now 80. With each attempt, his completion time continues to improve. Zinger’s original hour-and-42-minute finish sped up to 54 minutes on his second pass, which was ultimately dashed by his most recent 40-minute swim.
“I beat my record,” Zinger said proudly. “The older you get, the better you get, I guess.
“I’ve never been competitive with other people in sports, I’ve only ever been competitive with myself,” he added. “Most people wouldn’t want to do — or couldn’t do — this swim, but that’s why I like it — for the personal challenge.”
Zinger, who founded Hypmovation Inc. in Burbank, attributes his high level of health and sharp focus to self-hypnosis, which he said helped him to regulate his core body temperature in Northern California’s 50-degree water.
One technique Zinger employed through hypnosis was communicating to his body that it was like a dolphin — describing the act as wearing a “mental wetsuit.”
“It puts you in the zone — it gives you an edge that other people normally don’t have,” Zinger said.
Despite the Alcatraz Challenge veteran making the swim from the island seem easy with his impressive 40-minute record and smooth glide in the water, the swim isn’t always kind to those seeking to complete it. Zinger recalls a clouded sky on his first try of the challenge in shark- and jellyfish-infested waters, when 10 kayaks turned over from harsh weather conditions; hypothermia threatened swimmers who couldn’t finish the journey, even with wetsuits on; and one fatality was reported by the end of that day.
“I wasn’t trying to race anybody,” Zinger said. “I was just trying to make it.”
The experience proved to be intense for Zinger, who persevered to the finish 15 years ago as a less-experienced swimmer. Since then, he has gained more insight and swimming techniques like breath control, but what remains the same is his tried-and-true method for success: hypnosis.
“At my age, I’m still working with all of my original parts, nothing has changed — I’m still in good shape,” Zinger said. “I believe that practicing self-hypnosis everyday makes you more aware, more alert and keeps your body functioning at peak excellence.”
Zinger pioneered hypnosis in the corporate world 54 years ago. In the first 10 years of business, he said he graduated more than 50,000 people from an eight-session course. At one point in his career, he had 400 instructors teaching his program across the country, and often was a keynote speaker, attending seminars internationally for major corporations.
The 80-year-old said he’s unsure if he’ll ever swim the Alcatraz Challenge again, although, he keeps an open mind about one day returning for another birthday trek through the water.
“It’s fun and a good thing to do,” Zinger said. “I’m thinking at 85, I may do it again, and if I’m still on the planet at 90 and feeling the way I’m feeling now, I’d consider doing it then, too. I don’t have to, but I enjoy the challenge.”