In August 2013, long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad earned her place in the record books. The 64-year-old New York native became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the aid of a shark cage; the 110-mile journey took 53 hours to complete. Ms. Nyad first gained recognition in 1975 when she swam around Manhattan (a distance of roughly 28 miles), and she told the New York Daily News that she plans to swim for 48 consecutive hours in October to raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims.
In honor of Diana Nyad’s triumphant Cuba-Florida journey, we’ve decided to look back on some of her equally impressive counterparts in the field of open-water swimming.
In 1971, Ms. Cox and a couple of her swimming teammates became the first teenagers to cross the Catalina Island Channel ― and she hasn’t really stopped chasing records ever since. The following year, she set the first of her two English Channel crossing time records (her second came the following year). In 1976, she recorded the first crossings of both the Strait of Magellan in Chile and the Cape of Good Hope off the coast of South Africa. Eleven years later, she became the first swimmer to cross the frigid Bering Strait (from Little Diomede, Alaska, to Big Diomede, Soviet Union). And in 1992, she recorded the first crossing of Lake Titicaca.
Any swimmer can tell you the butterfly is one of the toughest strokes to master, as well as one of the most exhausting ― and that makes this Italian legend’s dual accomplishments all the more impressive. In 1976, he recorded the fastest double-crossing of the Strait of Messina (a four-mile stretch that separates Sicily from Italy’s southern tip) using only the butterfly stroke; he finished with a time of 2 hours and 23 minutes. The following year, he completed a record-setting single-crossing of the strait in just a shade under 52 minutes, also solely utilizing the butterfly. Both of these records remain unbroken to this day.
Blair Cannon, Phil Cutti, David Hodscher, Zach Jirkovsky, Luane Rowe, and Grace van der Byl
Last month, this six-member team completed a record-breaking, 228-mile continuous relay swim off the coast of California. The swimmers reached their final destination ― the San Diego Yacht Club ― in just over four days, well ahead of schedule. The group was commissioned by the Night Train Swimmers, a non-profit organization that has raised millions of dollars for charity through open water swims around the world.
Thousands of swimmers have completed the nearly two-mile distance that spans the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, yet Bob Roper’s 1969 record remains untouched. The San Francisco police officer completed this arduous trek in just 17 minutes, 21 seconds. Roper himself has also stood the test of time; he continues to coach swimmers in the Bay Area, and has emceed the annual Golden Gate invitational swim that bears his name for the last eight years.
This Slovenian dynamo has set the Guinness World Record for long-distance swimming an unprecedented five times, and on four different continents no less. It all began in 2000, when Strel swam more than 1,800 miles along the length of the Danube River in 58 days. Two years later, he swam the entire Mississippi River ― breaking his previous record by nearly 500 miles ― in 68 days. In 2003, he completed Argentina’s Parana River, which spans more than 2,400 miles, in just 21 days. Then, in 2004, he swam the entire length of the Yangtze River (more than 2,500 miles) in only 51 days. His most recent feat came in 2007 when he swam the entire Amazon River from source to estuary, a distance of more than 3,200 miles. Pirahnas and blistering sunburn nearly ended his Amazon trek, but he managed to outlast the elements for 66 days and earned his fourth world record. And just in case you’re wondering, he has no plans to swim the Nile.
Every year dozens of swimmers take part in the Kinmen-Xiamen race that covers the seven-kilometer stretch of sea between Taiwan and mainland China. Hong Kong native Ling Tienyu was only 17 when he took part in the 2010 contest, but youth certainly didn’t stop him from completing the swim in 94 minutes flat and setting the all-time record (the second-place swimmer reached the finish line only three seconds later).