The Character of Extreme Swimmers

I love to swim. I’m not a very strong swimmer, but I love it. I did a couple of mini triathlons when I was younger and tried to train hard so the swimming portion wouldn’t hurt me, but it never helped. One year I did a triathlon in the police games, the mile swim was in a lake, and I was last out of the water. Ouch.

I still love to plod along either in a pool or in the ocean and I have a great respect for those hardy souls who swim well and swim far, whether it be in a grueling race like an Ironman triathlon or some of the impressive long distance swims I’ve read about. I’m in awe of people who have the determination and stamina to train and compete in all extreme sports. But nothing boggles my mind like open water swimming Here’s a list of seven swims, swims extreme swimmers call “Ocean’s Seven” that are formidable:

  1. English Channel (21 miles)
  2. Catalina Channel (21 miles)
  3. Cook Strait in New Zealand (16 miles)
  4. Tsugaru Channel in Japan (11 miles)
  5. Strait of Gibraltar (8 miles between Spain and Morocco the shortest swim)
  6. Molokai Channel in Hawaii (26 miles, said to be the toughest)
  7. The North Channel between Scotland and Northern Ireland (21 miles and the coldest)

The list is attributed to a Steven Munatones who blogs about open water swimming and considers the goal of completing the Oceans Seven reasonable for a well rounded marathoner. The main hazard that comes to my mind when I read this list it, of course, sharks. But I’ve learned that jellyfish stings and current changes are also big challenges to overcome. I would imagine that completing an extreme swim is as much mental as physical. A person would have to be convinced they were able so that when they encountered problems or dangers they could “gut it out” so to speak, and keep swimming.

This weekend I read about a 61 year old woman, Diana Nyad who plans to become the first woman to swim the Florida Straits (from Havana to the Florida Keys) without the aid of a shark cage. Wow. Did I mention that the distance is 103 miles and will take about 60 hours? Double wow. (Update: Diana didn’t make it, she pulled herself out of the water after 30 hours. Yeah, 30)

Because of my respect for those who can overcome physical and mental obstacles to complete even one of the swims listed above, the main character in my next novel is an open water swimmer. The story is not about swimming, she earns her living as a police officer, but I think giving her a background as a swimmer helps to frame her personality and gives her character some depth. My character will also compete in the Maui Channel Swim, a 9.6 six-mile open water swim between the islands of Lanai and Maui. And for authenticity, I’ll have to make the trip to Maui to do a little research on the race. It’s held September 3, over the Labor Day weekend, so I’ll have to blog about it when I get back. Life is rough being a writer.

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