I didn’t learn to swim until I was a teenager, and I never really got much further than floating on my back and doggie paddling. I could probably tread water if I really needed to, but I wouldn’t bet on me surviving being stranded in the ocean somewhere. My lack of water skills is perhaps why I find Diana Nyad‘s recent swim from Cuba to Florida so inspiring (or maybe it’s just inspiring enough on its own). The 64 year old swimmer just became the first person to successfully swim the 110 mile distance without using a shark cage or swim fins. On her previous attempts, she endured strong winds, bad weather, and incapacitating jellyfish stings. (Jellyfish stings! That alone would have made me decide it wasn’t worth trying again!)
I’m always in awe of athletes who complete feats like Nyad’s. Ultramarathoners, heavy weightlifters, and those who take on the Appalachian Trail (or other long routes) have such passion and dedication to their sport, and they make the impossible possible. Long distance swimming adds in a host of other challenges for the athlete (sharks! jellyfish! strong currents!), not to mention the fact that most swimmers average only about 2 miles per hour (possibly more if the current is right). Nyad’s swim took almost 53 hours for her to complete. Here are a few books from our collection about other long distance swimmers who have made history:
The Great Swim: In the summer of 1926, four women undertook the challenge of becoming the first woman to swim the English Channel. The text draws from primary sources such as the women’s diaries and newspaper articles to retell this story of four groundbreaking athletes.
Swimming to Antarctica: Lynne Cox writes about her life as a long distance swimmer. First training as a speed swimmer, she fell in love with distance swimming and became one of the world’s top athletes in the sport.
The Crossing: The Glorious Tragedy of the First Man to Swim the English Channel: Matthew Webb made history in 1875 by becoming the first person to swim the English Channel. He captured the Victorian imagination, making swimming a popular sport and going on to attempt increasingly difficult stunts.