Jaimie Monahan Keeps Swimming On And On And On

Jaimie Monahan Keeps Swimming On And On And On

Photos courtesy of Phil White and Arik Thormahle in Lake Memphremagog, Vermont.

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

In most sporting Halls of Fame, the inductees are retired athletes or luminaries in their chosen sport.

Among the honorees in the International Swimming Hall of Fame, many competitive swimmers still swim for health and occasionally compete in a masters swimming meets. For example, in 1977, 9-time Olympic champion Mark Spitz was inducted in the Hall of Fame, but he also tried to qualify for the 1992 Olympics at the age of 41 – in which he did not qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials.

But the athletes and inductees in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame are a different breed. They are very, very different.

Compared to the other pool swimmers, divers, water polo players and coaches, many Honor Swimmers, Honor Pilots and Honor Administrators in the open water swimming world continue to compete and work in the sport at high levels. For example, German Olympian Angela Maurer was inducted in the Hall of Fame in its Class of 2009, but she still competes in the FINA/HOSA Marathon Swim World Series. Class of 2012 Hall of Fame member Ned Denison and Class of 2016 Hall of Famer Chloë McCardel both continue to ply the waters around the world on record-setting swims.

But they may be no inductee in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame as prolific as constantly moving Jaimie Monahan.

The American member of the Class of 2018 continues to do marathon swims and unprecedented ice swims around the world in dozens of countries without a sign of slowing down. No one is as busy as her over the last several years whether in lakes in Europe or down in the Southern Ocean.

Monahan, who balances a high-pressure job in Manhattan with her global travels and adventures, recently returned from Antarctica where she completed a 1-mile swim in 0.5°C in 30 minutes 49 seconds. “It was the most gorgeous silky water imaginable.”

Among her many – and growing number of – exploits, Monahan has traversed the 69 km (42 miles) of Lac Leman in Switzerland twice: in 32 hours 52 minutes in 2015 and then reversed the traditional route the following summer in an unprecedented swim of 28 hours 36 minutes. She did a 60 km (37 miles) cross-border swim across Lake Maggiore from Switzerland to Italy in 24 hours 2 minutes, the first recorded non-wetsuit crossing in the lake. She also completed a new route across Lake George in New York, 52 km (32 miles) in 21 hours 12 minutes in addition to previously completing the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming (English Channel + Catalina Channel + circumnavigation swim around Manhattan Island).

But once around Manhattan Island was not enough for her. Last year, she set a record for the double circumnavigation course around Manhattan in the inaugural 91.8 km (57-mile) New York Open Water‘s 40 Bridges Double Manhattan Island Swim in 20 hours 12 minutes.

Her other notable marathon swims include the 57.9 km (36-mile) END-WET in North Dakota, USA in 11 hours 56 minutes, 50 km (31 miles) across Lake Como in Italy in 20 hours 29 minutes, 40 km (25 miles) across Lac Memphrémagog from Vermont (USA) to Quebec (Canada), 36 km (22.5 miles) around Absecon Island in New Jersey, USA in 13 hours 59 minutes, 27 km (17 miles) in Lago d’Orta in Italy in 8 hours 38 minutes, and the 27 km (17-mile) Rose Pitonof Swim in New York a total of six times (6 hours 3 minutes in 2011, 5 hours 27 minutes in 2012, 5 hours 31 minutes in 2013, 5 hours 36 minutes in 2015, 5 hours 1 minutes in 2016, and 5 hours 2 minutes in 2017).

In addition to serving as the President of the Lake Geneva Swimming Association, she has volunteered as a race director, committee member, and observer in other swims – and perhaps most remarkably, she is the first person to complete the Ice Sevens, a solo non-neoprene Ice Mile swum in water below 5°C under International Ice Swimming Association rules on all 7 continents which must include a Polar Ice Mile and Zero Ice Mile.

Her Ice Sevens included the following Ice Miles:

1. Europe: on April 2nd 2016 in Reykjavík, Iceland in 3.7°C water (3°C wind chill + 5.6°C air) in 35 minutes 0 seconds in the sea with 12 km/hr wind speed
2. Asia: Ice Zero Mile on December 18th 2016 in Tyumen, Russia in -0.03°C water (-31°C wind chill + air) in 30:20 in an ice pool cut into a frozen lake
3. Africa: on February 13th 2017 in Aguelmame Sidi Ali Lake, Morocco in 4.9°C water (-0.5°C wind chill + 3°C air) in 32:18 in a mountain lake with 14 km/hr wind speed
4. Arctic Circle: on March 4th 2017 in Mikkelvik Brygge, Karlsøy, Norway in 2.37°C water (-3.5°C air) in 32:09 in the sea with 4 km/hr wind speed
5. North America: on March 9th 2017 at M Street Beach, Boston, USA in 4.63°C water (6.1°C wind chill + 9°C air) in 26:16 in the sea with 20 km/hr wind speed
6. Oceania: on 15 May 2017 in Tasman Lake, Aoraki Mt. Cook, New Zealand in 2.37°C water (14°C air) in 26:44 in a glacier lake
7. South America: on 2 July 2017 in Ushuaia, Argentina in 4.76°C water (5.9°C air) in 29:05 in the Beagle Channel

With her marathon swims, International Winter Swimming Association titles, and ice swims under arctic conditions piling up as fast as her airline miles, she was voted as both the 2016 and 2017 World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year and received the 2016 Barra Award from the Marathon Swimmers Federation.

Her 4 km solo crossing of the Strait of Magellan in Chile in 1 hour 10 minutes and her numerous victories on the International Winter Swimming Association World Cup circuit are mixed up between her two 69 km solo crosses of Lake Geneva in Switzerland that took her 32 hours 52 minutes and 28 hours 36 minutes respectively.

She discussed her career to date:

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How does it feel to be inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame – even though you have plenty of swims left in your career?

Jaimie Monahan: It’s an incredible feeling – it’s an honor to be recognized for what I’ve accomplished already. I’m even more inspired and motivated to keep doing what I love in the years ahead.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What was the most satisfying swim of your career?

Jaimie Monahan: There are swims that invigorate the body, there are swims that delight the eyes, and there are swims that satisfy the soul. Swimming around my dazzling home island at night during New York Open Water’s 40 Bridges Around Manhattan Swim was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and the intersection of all three.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: If there were a Hall of Fame for ice swimming, you would be in the inaugural class. But can you compare the difficulty of doing Ice Miles with marathon swims?

Jaimie Monahan: It’s tough to compare. I find marathon swims to be more complicated logistically (arranging boats, route, feeds, lights, sunscreen, etc.), but easier once I am in the water. Even for very long distances, I can set my mind free to enjoy the sights and sensations of the swim. With an ice mile, even after doing so many, the margin of error is much smaller so it’s important to be extremely focused at all times, constantly checking my own breathing, my skin color, my hands, etc. If anything feels wrong I am responsible for noticing and pulling myself out immediately. I enjoy the ice swims very much but they require much more mental energy during the swim itself.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Can you describe your typical weekly schedule, including your swimming workouts, your work schedule, travel schedule, and any dryland training that you do?

Jaimie Monahan: In my life, there isn’t really a typical week. I usually travel at least a couple of days each week for work during the week and/or at the weekends for swimming. It’s hard to keep to a schedule when I often have to be up at 4 am to catch a flight/train/bus or work into the night for dinners, events, and catching up on action items. When I’m home in New York City, I wake up around 6 am on weekday mornings to swim in the pool with my masters swimming team (McBurney YMCA) and swim outdoors around 10 am at the weekend with the Coney Island Brighton Beach Open Water Swimmers (CIBBOWS) year-round. I like to augment my swimming with High Intensity Interval Training classes, strength training, and vinyasa yoga at Equinox.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: You seem to transition from ice swims in the polar regions to marathon swims in a warm-water river and lakes so easily. How are you so versatile?

Jaimie Monahan: Warm or cold, long or short, it’s always just me and the water. It’s my liquid comfort zone, anywhere in the world.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: You do swims all over the world. How do you pick your escort crew members or seconds in ice swims since your swims are all over the world?

Jaimie Monahan: For pilots/guides, I prefer to research and find local experts with experience navigating the body of water I’d like to swim. For my personal crew, Arik Thormahle is always my top choice – we have our swim packing down to a science and he’s the only person I trust to apply my sunscreen for long swims. I love experiencing the world with him through swimming.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: You do/did swims that were unprecedented. Can you describe how these swims came into being?

Jaimie Monahan: Sometimes when I see a beautiful body of water, it catches my imagination and I find myself online later, looking at Google Maps, researching currents, flows, landmarks. From there it’s just a matter of finding the best dates, booking pilots, flights, accommodation, and staying in good condition.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What are your favorite foods and favorite drinks during your marathon swims?

Jaimie Monahan: I feed almost exclusively on water or ginger tea mixed with maltodextrin energy drink. My big treat when I want a little pick-me-up is an energy gel added to my drink, for the boost in calories and a hit of caffeine. I never eat solid food, even on long swims.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: You may do more open water swims than anyone else in the global community. Can you describe how you decide your schedule year after year?

Jaimie Monahan: It’s definitely an art, not a science. For a while I had a to-do list of swims, but once I’d accomplished those, I waited for something to call to me, to pique my interest. In 2014 it was the International Winter Swimming Association’s World Championships in Rovaniemi, Finland which introduced me to competitive cold water swimming. In 2015, it was the Lake Geneva Swim Association’s Signature 70 km swim, which rekindled my interest in marathon swimming. Since then I have often chosen a goal or theme for the year, such as swimming every event in the International Winter Swimming Association’s inaugural World Cup, or completing the International Ice Swimming Association’s Ice Sevens Challenge.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What kinds of things do you think about during your marathon swims?

Jaimie Monahan: Everything and anything. Work, songs, books, movies…people I love, people I dislike…things that motivate me, things I wish I’d said, questions I wish I could google the answers. I look at the crew and hope they’re comfortable. I think of friends in different time zones, who is awake with me through the night here, who is having a nice cup of coffee or glass of wine right now depending on where they are. I watch the clouds. I watch the sun rise and set. I watch the moon arch across the sky. I watch the stars twinkle, and welcome the sun when it lights up the sky again. I love to take in my surroundings, experience the full life cycle of a day from the water.

Monahan will be honored at the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame induction ceremony on March 31st 2018 at The Chapel, Beaumont Estate, Old Windsor, UK.

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Steven Munatones