CHADWICK, Florence

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Florence Chadwick (1918-1995)

CHADWICK, Florence (1918-1995), San Diego-born daughter of a policeman who grew up swimming at the local Point Loma beach from the age of six. She later swam on her school teams in San Diego, graduating from high school in 1936. Chadwick went on to study at San Diego State College, Southwestern University of Law, and Balboa Law School. During World War II, she produced and directed aquatic shows for the U.S. military and, in 1945, she appeared with swimmer Esther Williams in the movie Bathing Beauty. Chadwick excelled at long-distance open-water swimming, and at age 31 became the first woman to swim 23 miles across the English Channel in both directions. She was known for her endurance swims in rough water. She was the first woman to swim the Catalina Channel, the Straits of Gibraltar, the Bosporus in Instabul (one way), and the Dardanelles in Turkey(round trip).

Chadwick got a job working for the Arabian-American Oil Company, moved to Saudi Arabia with the company, and began training in the rough waters of the Persian Gulf. Dedicated to her goal, she swam before and after work, and trained for up to ten hours a day on her days off. In June 1950, Chadwick left her job and went to France to attempt her first Channel crossing. She heard that the London paper, Daily Mail, was holding a contest to sponsor applicants who wanted to swim across the Channel, but since no one at the paper had heard of Chadwick, they rejected her application. Despite this setback, she took a practice swim in the Channel in July, making the attempt at her own expense.

On August 8, 1950, after training for two years, Chadwick set a world record for the crossing, swimming from Cape Gris-Nez, France to Dover, England in 13 hours and 20 minutes. Her time broke the 24-year-old women's record, set by Gertrude Ederle; Ederle's time was 14 hours, 39 minutes, and 24 seconds. "I feel fine," Chadwick reported after finishing the swim. "I am quite prepared to swim back." She didn't swim back right away, but returned to Dover in 1951 and spent eleven weeks there, waiting for good weather and tides. On September 11, 1951, Chadwick finally decided to swim, despite dense fog and strong headwinds. Because of challenging winds and tides, this route across the Channel from Dover, England to Sangatte, France was considered more difficult than the France-to-England route. Previous swimmers had avoided it, and no woman had ever completed it. While swimming, Chadwick had to take anti-seasickness medication, but managed to finish in record time - 16 hours and 22 minutes.

On July 4, 1952, at the age of 34, Chadwick attempted to become the first woman to swim 21 miles across the Catalina Channel, from Catalina Island to Palos Verde on the California coast. The weather that day was not auspicious - the ocean was ice cold, the fog was so thick that she could hardly see the support boats that followed her, and sharks prowled around her. Several times, her support crew used rifles to drive away the sharks. While Americans watched on television, she swam for hours. Her mother and her trainer, who were in one of the support boats, encouraged her to keep going. However, after 15 hours and 55 minutes, with only a half mile to go, she felt that she couldn't go on, and asked to be taken out of the water.

Two months later, she tried again. The fog was just as dense, but this time she made it. After 13 hours, 47 minutes, and 55 seconds, she reached the California shore from Santa Catalina Island, breaking a 27-year-old record by more than two hours and becoming the first woman every to complete the swim.

Florence Chadwick, who worked as a stockbroker and later as vice president of First Wall Street Corporation in San Diego, died of leukemia on March 15, 1995 at age 76. He ashes were scattered in the ocean off Point Loma. She left no heirs.


December 20, 2017 [thehundu]: “Florence Chadwick loved to swim. She was the first woman to swim across the English Channel, both ways. She even swam across the Straits of Gibraltar. She was born in San Diego, California on November 9, 1918. She grew up on the beach and began competing as a swimmer at the age of six. After four years of defeats, her uncle entered her in a contest at the age of ten in a two-and-a-half mile ‘rough water’ night swim where she came in fourth. A year later, she won the first place in a six-mile race across the choppy waters of the San Diego Bay Channel in her home town. For the next 19 years, she continued as a competitive swimmer. In 1952, Florence Chadwick stepped into the icy cold waters of the Pacific Ocean off Catalina Island, determined to swim to the shore of mainland California. The weather, that day, was challenging because the ocean was ice-cold, and the fog was so thick that she could barely see the support boats that followed her. The tides and current were against her. And, to make matters worse, there were sharks in the area. Still, she swam for fifteen hours. Florence began to doubt her ability, and she told her mother, who was in one of the boats, that she did not think she could make it. Her mother and her trainer continued to give her encouragement to continue, but all that Florence could see was the fog. They urged her not to quit as she could make it. But she did, she quit. She had never quit until then. Finally, physically and emotionally exhausted, she stopped swimming and was pulled out. It was not until she was on the boat that she discovered the shore was less than half a mile away. At a news conference the next day she said, “All I could see was the fog. I think if I could have seen the shore, I would have made it.” 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 focussed on that image of the coast in her mind, and in this way, she reached her goal. You can get the results you desire, no matter what obstacles come your way. Giving up is not an option. You have every reason to keep going. See it through to the end, and you will like the way it turns out. Florence Chadwick did just that and she became a world record holder and an instant heroine. Her story reminds us of how close any of us can be to success but without keeping our eyes on the goal, we stop short. We really can be so near and yet so far!”