Redwood water polo coach escapes Alcatraz to raise funds for scholarship

Major Rogers raises over $6,000 for his late wife’s memorial scholarship fund by swimming from Alcatraz in replica denim inmate costume

SAN FRANCISCO – When Major Rogers lost his beloved wife to lung cancer in August 2011, he did what anyone might do: he jumped into the San Francisco Bay.

Just last weekend, Rogers, the Redwood boys water polo coach, made his fourth trip from Alcatraz to shore. Wearing nothing but a replica denim Alcatraz inmate uniform—white cap and all—Rogers braved the frigid cold waters and forceful current to finish in just under one hour. His 1.5 miles swim raised over $6,000 in his wife’s name.

Posted as a GoFundMe account for the Dr. Natalie Claussen-Rogers Scholarship Fund, Rogers set his goal at $5,000, as of Monday, Sept. 27 64 donors pushed the total to $5,700. Some outside donations pushed it even further and over $6,000. Needless to say, Rogers was overcome with gratitude.

“This money will go to improve someone’s life. Someone who in return will go on to make the world a better place. Thank you to my Alcatraz crew. These men gave me the courage and the inspiration to go through with the event,” Rogers said.

Swimming along side Rogers last Saturday, Sept. 25, were two close friends and three of his current water polo players: Jackson Coon finished with a time of 31:10, Nate Bettencourt finished in 32:22; and Jayce Ford finished in 33:32.

For a foundation that raises roughly $6,000 in a normal year, finding a way to raise about the same amount during the pandemic is a success. Rogers is insistent that none of the money goes to board members or administrative costs. All of it goes to the recipients.

“A lot of scholarships go through Redwood high school because we we’ve got a lot of socioeconomically struggling bright kids there. And we’ve been working with Woodlake too, the last couple of years, because they’ve had some outstanding students that are dreamers and are having trouble getting funds,” Rogers said.

In addition handing out traditional academic scholarships Rogers said that they give out one or two technical scholarships in a year. In the past the scholarship has helped pay for a woman to become a court reporter. Another year the scholarship helped pay for a single mother’s cosmetology tuition. And other times the fund will donate to a “hard luck” story about a family who are on hard time and struggling to get by.

“It’s so nice to be able to say well, ‘you know, here’s $500 or here’s $1,000 to put towards your cause’,” Rogers said.

Rogers said they started the fund almost immediately after Natalie’s death. During the funeral the family asked for donations to set up the scholarship, in lieu of flowers. It took a few years before the scholarship “went legit” and filed paperwork as the Natalie Claussen-Rogers Scholarship Fund.

The motivation behind the scholarship was turning Natalie’s memory into action. According to Rogers as a forensic psychologist Natalie stood up to the worst society had to offer, and offered protection to the most vulnerable, abused children and the mentally ill. He said her heart was endless, and her good works were wide.

In her obituary published in The Fresno Bee, Natalie wasn’t just a forensic psychologist, she was Tulare County’s lead on the matter. She was instrumental in the operation of the Mental Health Court, where the mentally ill were separated from jail populations and given the care and treatment needed to end much of their strife. She also started programs which allowed that same population to help and give them pride and self-worth.

“She was just full of passion. She was such a smart girl,” Rogers emphasized. “You know, everyone becomes an angel when they die. But I mean, she really was an angel here. And so we started this [scholarship] to continue doing good work in her name.”

In any other year, unrestricted by COVID-19, Rogers and the scholarship’s volunteers would host a poker tournament and accept the generosity of local corporations like Bueno Beverage who have helped them raise money in the past. Obviously, this year forced Rogers back into the water.

This was the second time he donned the inmate cap and uniform. And if you’re wondering if the denim gets heavy when it’s soaked in water, the short answer is yes. But Rogers said that he’s always been a strong swimmer. “I mean, I’ve always been the one that bragged if I fell off a cruise ship 20 miles out, I would make it to shore,” Rogers said.

Five years ago when he last made the swim, Rogers said that he jumped in without training at all and made it in under an hour. But Father Time comes for everyone and at 51 years old he put in the work. Rogers swam three to five days a week in preparation for last weekend’s swim.

“The last time I did this at 45 years old, I did it with no training at all in 57 minutes. This swim I trained for it… and It’s no joke that we start losing that youthful natural strength at 50. But I still made it to shore,” Rogers said.

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