James Tout, Simply Amazing

James Tout, Simply Amazing

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Four years ago, 62-year-old James Tout of Austin, Texas was a far cry from achieving the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming.

The Hawaiian Ironman, marathon runner, and English Channel swimmer was a far removed from this athletic days. But times change.

One of my doctors told me that there was nothing but a thin red line that separated me from death.

My diagnosis of congestive heart failure on July 21st 2011 took everything away from me. I had been symptomatic for years, but the diagnosis was something different. It devastated me. I could’t lift anymore and running or riding was out of the question.”

The 10-time Manhattan Island Marathon swimmer and nominee for the 2015 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year could not even do a flip turn because he couldn’t hold my breath long enough to streamline off the wall. His endurance athletic past – or even a 50-yard freestyle – seemed to be over. Until one day he saw the news on television and his life turned around unexpectedly.

I saw a news program that covered President George Bush who jumped out of a plane to celebrate his 90th birthday. He also jumped when he was 75, 80, and 85 years old. A smile crossed my face; I thought, ‘That is simply amazing.’ And to be have a disability and still do it put President Bush’s accomplishment on a different level.”

He spoke about the impact of President Bush’s activities with his wife. They talked about his own history at the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. “I did MIMS for the first time in 1985. I was also there in 1995 and in 2005. The 2015 race would be my 30-year anniversary.”

But he was realistic with his physical – and mental – limitations. “Even though my doctors told me my congestive heart failure was controlled with medication, mentally I was lost.”

But he started to swim and then got motivate to swim for others with congestive heart failure. “A diagnosis of heart failure can be a death sentence to some, but to others it can be an opportunity.”

Tout became tremendously motivated by the opportunity and started to step up his training big-time. Then he planned on a “difficult double” as he wife described the nearly back-to-back Manhattan Island Marathon Swim and Catalina Channel. Tout trained to do something that would make men half his age think twice: he attempted his 10th swim around Manhattan Island only three days after an attempt of the Catalina Channel. Not only did he have to swim 28.5 miles after a 20.2-mile channel crossing, he had to travel cross-country to achieve his goal – not an easy task for anyone and certainly not for a 62-year-old with heart disease.

But two major swims within four days was what resulted and why he was recognized as being someone who best embodies the spirit of open water swimming, possesses the sense of adventure, tenacity and perseverance that open water swimmers are known for, and has most positively influenced the world of open water swimming in 2015.

I wish I hadn’t held back at Catalina, but a successful crossing is good even if my 11 hour 18 minute time is kinda slow. I had thought that I could get under 10 hours or at least breath my 10:33 English Channel time, but I couldn’t stop thinking of the effect a hard Catalina Channel crossing would have on [my] New York [swim]. I kept hearing Morty Berger’s words ringing in my ears, ‘Once it looks like you’re going to make it, take it easy or you will pay for it later doing Manhattan.’

He did and he not only achieved the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming, but also almost unbelievably swam his fastest Manhattan Island marathon time in 11 attempts over a 30-year period. “I did MIMS at age 32, the English Channel at age 34, and the Catalina Channel at the age of 62. I managed a personal record at MIMS on September 23rd in a time of 7 hours and 31 minutes. Of the 11 starts and 10 finishes, my previous fastest was 7 hours and 44 minutes that I did back in 1991. This year’s swim was also a big improvement from my last place finish of 9 hours and 23 minutes that I did in 2006 when I was in end stage heart failure.”

Tout did eventually cross the thin red line as his doctor predicted. But it was in the opposite, more positive, direction.

His WOWSA Award nomination reads as follows:

James Tout became the second oldest person to achieve the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming, but the 62-year-old from Austin, Texas did it in dramatic fashion over a 4-day period where he completed his 10th lifetime circumnavigation, a 28.5-mile swim around Manhattan Island in New York performed only three days after completing his 20.2-mile Catalina Channel crossing in 11 hours 18 minutes in California. Most incredibly, his latest Manhattan Island Marathon Swim was his lifetime best in 7 hours 31 minutes, beating his previously best time set in 1991 as a 34-year-old. For battling back from heart disease, for achieving his goal of 2 marathon swims in 4 days, and for swimming the fastest he has even swum around Manhattan Island after nearly 3 decades, James Tout is a worthy nominee for the 2015 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year.

To vote for the 2015 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year, visit the WOWSA Awards here.

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Steven Munatones