Breaking Through the Fog – the Career of Florence Chadwick

Florence Chadwick was a pioneer for women in long distance swimming.

Florence Chadwick was born in San Diego, California on November 9, 1918. She spent 18 years as an amautur swimmer off the coast in Point Loma. She won her first race at the age of ten and quickly found out she preferred the challenge of ocean racing than swimming in the pool. She was the youngest person to swim across the mouth of San Diego Bay. Starting at age eleven she competed in rough water swims, winning an annual 2.5-mile race in the ocean off La Jolla 10 times in 18 years.

She was the first woman to swim to Catalina Island. In 1952 she attempted to swim from the California mainland to Catalina Island. After 15 hours and immense fog that prevented her from seeing the finish she called it quits, but she did not give up.

After the swim she said, “I’m not excusing myself, but if I could have seen the land, I might have made it.” It wasn’t that she was too tired or that she wasn’t a good enough swimmer that caused Florence Chadwick to fail. It was the fog.

Two months later she attempted the swim again, this time she succeeded. She went on to make the Catalina Island swim two more times.

Chadwick was the first woman to swim the English Channel both ways, and she did it in record time too. She first swam from France to England at the age of 30 in 1950 and the from England to France in 1951, 1953, and 1955. Swimming from France to England, she made it in 13:23 finally breaking the women’s record (14:34) set by Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim it in 1926. 

“I feel fine,” Chadwick reported after finishing the record breakign swim. “I am quite prepared to swim back.”

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