Have you ever heard the story of Florence May Chadwick? No, not the one about her swimming the English Channel. I'm refering to the one about Catalina Island. I heard it recently and decided it's a great metaphor for life.
On July 4, 1952, Florence Chadwick attempted to swim the twenty one mile Pacific channel from Catalina Island to the California coast. Long distance swimming was nothing new to Florence. After all, she had been the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions!
But on that day in July, the water was choppy and unusually cold. The support boats that accompanied her were surrounded by a fog so thick she could hardly see them. On several occasions, prowling sharks and sting-rays had to be driven away with rifles. Florence swam more than fifteen hours and fifty five minutes before deciding she couldn't go on and was taken out of the water.
Later, as Florence sat on the boat she found out that she quit less than a mile from shore. She responded by saying. “Look, I’m not excusing myself, but if I could have seen land, I know I could have made it.” The fog had made her unable to see her goal.
The obstacles that endurance swimmers have to overcome are dangerous. They swim through the black of night, often changing their strategy according to the weather and water conditions. They deal with sting-rays and kelp beds and swim further than their calculated distance due to rip tides, back currents, wind and waves.
In spite of her initial defeat, Florence tried again a couple of months later. Again the fog was dense, but this time she kept a mental image of the shoreline in her mind as she swam.
After swimming in treacherous waters for over 13 hours, she reached her goal. In doing so, she broke a 27-year-old record by more than two hours, for both women and men and became the first woman ever to complete the swim.
After retiring from long distance swimming, she went on to work with youth groups. She encouraged young people to pursue their own dreams of excellence. By the time Florence May Chadwick passed away in March of 1995, she had left a legacy of inspiration and hope for the athletes that came after her. ~KL