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Open Water Swimming Heroes In The 20th Century

Courtesy of Catalina Channel Swimming Federation, Catalina Channel, California.

At the 2012 Catalina Channel Swimming Federation banquet, Dr. Penny Lee Dean talked about a number of luminaries from the Catalina Channel history.

Daisy Murchie was one of the early pioneers of ocean swimming in Southern California.

She swam from Avalon to Long Beach [an approximate distance of 49 km compared to the traditional shortest straight-line distance of 32.2 km] in 17 hours 4 minutes in 1955. At the age of 39, she became the third woman to cross the Catalina Channel [after Myrtle Huddleston in 1927 and Florence Chadwick in 1952]. She also swam across the Salton Sea a few times as promotion for a neighboring city. She swam around Atlantic City with Tom Parks and worked out in Alamitos Bay with Greta Andersen in addition to starting the Seal Beach Rough Water Swim in 1954 with Amy Hiland and Mary Ann Ward.”

Dr. Dean introduced Tom Clardy who became, in 1982, the first amputee to cross the Catalina Channel. Clardy lost his leg as a police officer when he was hit by a car. Clardy recalls, “Swimming made me feel better. I got hit hard physically as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam and then again as a police officer. It was then when I lost my leg. Swimming saved me. The more I move, the better I feel. The less I move, the worse I feel. So swimming is great for me.”

Not only was Clardy an amputee, but his other leg was paralyzed, his back was injured, and experienced memory problems due to brain damage. The physicians who treated him decided he was incapable of making his own decisions. But his grit enabled him to gradually to overcome constant pain and achieve post-accident success.

He began his recovery by swimming around a pier in San Diego, California. Then he entered a 10-mile swim and in 1982 he crossed the Catalina Channel in 14 hours 2 minutes after losing his leg 8 years earlier.

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