One of the most appreciated compliments received by any athlete is from one’s own peers.
The Class of 2018 honorees in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame represent the largest group of individuals to be inducted in a single year over the institution’s history.
Each one of this year’s inductees are remarkable athletes who have completed incredible feats in the open water and are exceptional humans who lead inspirational lives on dryland. Some have achieved greatness in competitive races, some in solo crossings, some in unprecedented swims. While their greatest swims are publicly well-known, it is the relentless dedication and numerous hours they put in hard, solitary training year after year that enable them to complete their swims in lakes, river, and seas around the world.
The honorees are selected by their peers who include Nick Adams, Tamara Bruce, Penny Dean, Yuko Matsuzaki, David O’Brien, Skip Storch, Valerio Valli, Forrest Nelson, David Barra, Dr. Osama Ahmed Momtaz, Michael P. Read, MBE, Peter Bales, Elizabeth Fry, Marcella MacDonald, DPM, Captain Tim Johnson, Vojislav Mijić, Ricardo Ratto, Dr. Jane Katz, Valerie Parsons, Lynn Blouin, Kathrin Lammers, Sally Minty-Gravett, MBE, Evan Morrison, Philip Rush, Dan Simonelli, Ben Barham, Penny Palfrey, Carol Sing, Natalya Pankina, Petar Stoychev, Silvia Dalotto, Stéphane Lecat, Kevin Murphy, Greg Streppel, Peter van Vooren, Jacques Tuset, Attila Mányoki, and John York.
The Class of 2018 includes swimmer/coach/race coordinator Mohamed Marouf who was named as one of the 101 Movers And Shakers In The Open Water Swimming World in 2012 and 2013 for his work in Quebec, Canada and in his native Egypt.
Over the course of the last two decades, Marouf has competed in and coached in races around Europe, in Egypt, in Argentina, and in Canada. He competed in six Traversée Internationale du lac St-Jean events (between 1996 and 2001), represented Egypt at several world championships, set the record at the International Self-Transcendence Marathon-Schwimmen in 1993 that still remains unbroken [photos shown on left], raced twice in the 37 km Atlantic City Around The Island Swim, and three Swim Across The Sound events.
But his legacy has arguably been even more established by his passion for coaching. He has long shared his passion for swimming at the club, collegiate and elite levels in Canada and Egypt.
He knows that his swimmers can expect the unexpected in the open water. Some of his experiences in his own career were telling:
During the first half of the 1996 Maratón Acuática Internacional Santa Fe – Coronda race in Argentina, Marouf started to have shoulder problems early in the 57 km FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix marathon.
He fought through the pain, but as he passed the 9 km, the pain was too much to bear.
“I did not think I could stay with the pack or even finish the race, so I asked to be pulled out,” recalls the personable multi-lingual swimmer.
With the entire flotilla and rest of the field moving down the river towards the finish 48 km away, there was no turning back.
“I asked my boat escort to stop. They called medical boat that took me to a nearby beach. We waited near a building for few minutes before I asked them to take me to the swimmers’ hotel. They tried to call, but no one answered. I waited for someone to pick me up.” He waited and waited and waited, wearing only my swimsuit with my goggles in my hand.”
Being resourceful and being superbly fit other than his injured shoulder, he set off for the hotel – barefoot and barrel-chested. “Getting pick up did not look good after a while so I took off walking in my swimsuit and goggles along the street.”
Talk about expecting the unexpected. But Marouf, true to his sport, was flexible and adapted to the situation in a country where he did not speak the language. “There was no one where I was and no one was coming to pick me up. There was no protection from the sun. I did not know exactly where the hotel was, but I knew that I could not just sit there or no one would find me.”
Clothed only in his Speedos, Marouf put one foot in front of the other and headed home, or somewhere. He knew that he could not just sit on the banks of the Río Coronda. “It is a pretty isolated part of Argentina, but I finally met a few local people. Unfortunately, I could not speak Spanish and they could not speak Arabic, and body language was not being understood. So I walked some more. And more. And more.”
Marouf, without hydration or directions but never forgetting his goggles, finally made it back to the hotel, several hours after his competitors who had swum the course had finished, showered and relaxed. “They were all wondering what happened to me, but they laughed and smiled because they knew I could make it.”
His way from Cairo to Montreal was not a straight line. Fate and the magic of love were major elements in the equation in his transformation from a national Egyptian champion to a coach in French-speaking Canada.
Back in 1996, the Egyptian Swimming Federation dispatched a coach to work with Marouf at the Traversee internationale du lac St-Jean without consultation of the swimmer. The coach showed up in Roberval and introduced himself to Marouf, “Hello, I am your coach.”
A day before the race, Marouf was surprised to learn about this new coach who insisted on boarding his escort boat. Instead of working with someone new, Marouf preferred to work with the experienced boat pilots provided by the organizing committee.
This preference by Marouf did not sit well with the coach who had traveled a long way to escort Marouf in the prestigious crossing of lac St-Jean. The two men got in a heated discussion early on race morning. The discussion continued for some time and turned into an argument. “I did not need this stressful situation the morning before the race,” recalls Marouf. “So instead of boarding the swimmers’ bus from the hotel to the start, I decided to take the public bus. I needed to clear my mind and get mentally ready for the race.”
As he walked dejectedly to the bus stop, he lugged all his gear, drinks and bananas that he was fond of eating during the crossing of lac St-Jean. It was most certainly not a good start to what was going to be a very long day.
“I sat down at the public bus stop and met a young girl. We started to talk and she asked me what I was doing so early in the morning. I told her that I was a swimmer in the Traversee internationale du lac St-Jean. She did not believe me.”
Given the prestige that the swimmers hold in the Quebec province and the improbability of meeting a swimmer at a public bus stop, the young women was not to blame for her incredulity. “I tried to convince her that I really was a swimmer and that I had an argument with a coach who I never met before. I tried to explain to her why I needed to relieve my stress before I started the swim. But she refused to believe me. But I asked her for her phone number and told her that I would call her after the swim.”
Marouf finally made it over to the other side of lac St-Jean on public transportation – always thinking about that beautiful young women he met. Although he never saw his coach who ultimately never boarded his escort boat, he started the swim and finished sixth 10 hours 28 minutes later. “It was a rough swim under terrible conditions after two hours, but after the awards ceremony, I finally got back to our hotel. I never forgot the young woman who doubted me and called her around midnight.”
Fate continued to intervene and she answered.
“What are you doing?” Marouf asked.
“Do you know what time it is?” she replied, both slightly disturbed, but also intrigued by this foreign swimmer.
“Yes, I finished the race, but do you want to meet? I need to talk to you,” he pleaded with the energy of a young man who just finished a shower, not an exceedingly difficult 10+ hour professional marathon swim.
She agreed to meet him at the swimmers’ hotel. “She took me up to a beautiful mountain on the most wonderful night. We talked for a long time. It was just what I needed and she seemed to enjoy our second meeting in less than a day. We will both never forget how we met. And, honestly, I have my coach to thank, even though he never coached me and he never got on my boat.”
Dial fast forward more than a decade and now Marouf and his wife from Roberval have been happily married for over 10 years raising 3 children and running an emerging swimming program in Montreal.
“Lac St-Jean is known as a magical place among marathon swimmers that challenges them physically and mentally, but rarely has it been the site of such a story like this,” said Steven Munatones. “Marouf is such an entrepreneurial, entertaining, and energetic coach. He pours in so much passion into the sport. His adventures as a swimmer do not surprise me at all.”
“Mohamed and the other new members of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame emulate those exceptional 269 forerunners already enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Since the class of 1963, our marathon swimming inductees from around the world have received the ultimate marathon swimming recognition. They have been immortalized with their names inscribed on the IMSHOF Sea Goddess, our ‘symbol of the sea’,” explained Chairman Christopher Guesdon.
“When Captain Matthew Webb RN conquered the English Channel in 1875 nobody would have thought such a worldwide movement of marathon swimming would be born and where ethics and morals are paramount in pursuit of a successful marathon. The induction ceremony will be held on March 31st 2018 at The Chapel, Beaumont Estate, Old Windsor, UK.”
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