Florence Chadwick

Florence May Chadwick was born November 9, 1918 and died March 15, 1995. She was an American swimmer who was the first woman ever to cross the English Channel both ways.

On August 8, 1950, she crossed the English Channel in 13 hours and 20 minutes, breaking the then-current world record held by American swimmer Gertrude Ederle. One year later, Chadwick crossed the English Channel yet again, from England to France; this time, in 16 hours and 22 minutes, thus making her the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions.

On the fourth of July 1952, Florence, now 34, had set her goal at being the first woman to swim the 26 miles between Catalina Island and the California coastline. As she began this historical journey, she was flanked by small boats that watched for sharks and were prepared to help her if she got hurt or grew tired. Hour after hour Florence swam, but after about 15 hours, a thick, heavy fog set in. Florence began to doubt her ability, and she told her mother, who was in one of the boats, that she didn’t think she could make it.

Her mother and her trainer continued to offer encouragement. They told her it wasn’t much further, but all she could see was fog. They urged her not to quit.

She never had . . . until then.

As she sat in the boat, Florence found out she had stopped swimming less than one mile away from the California shoreline. Florence explained that she quit because she could no longer see the coastline-there was too much fog. She couldn’t see her goal.

Two months later, Florence got back in the water to try her task once more. This time was different. She swam from Catalina Island to the shore of California in a straight path for 26 miles. The same thick fog set in, but Florence made it because she said that while she swam, she kept a mental image of the shoreline in her mind. Florence Chadwick became the first woman to swim the Catalina Channel, eclipsing the men’s record by two hours!

She didn’t lose sight of the shore because she focused on that image of the coast in her mind, and in this way, she reached her goal.

“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” – Helen Keller 1880-1968

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