Remembering Bill Heiss

Remembering Bill Heiss

(Photos courtesy of Bill’s sister Marilee Wehde)

Sarah Thomas, the most celebrated marathon and channel swimmer in modern times, was recently inducted into the Colorado Swimming Hall of Fame. Bill Heiss, another great swimmer from Colorado, was similarly honored in 2016.

Heiss, who currently lives in Casper, Wyoming with his wife, shares his love and success in swimming with his two children, Kristen and Erik. Kristen was a member of the USA Swimming National Team 2008-2009, finished 5th in the USA Swimming Olympic Trials, swam at Texas A&M, and is the assistant men’s and women’s swimming coach at the University of Missouri. Erik was a Wyoming state swimming champion and a multi-sport athlete.

Heiss began swimming at the age of 10 and quickly progressed to becoming a High School All-American swimmer, first qualifying for the USA Swimming Olympic Trials as a precocious 16-year-old. He swam at Indiana University under Doc Counsilman and was a member of the 1971 Indiana team that was called the best college team ever—in any sport.

Heiss was a 6-time NCAA Division I All-American and the 1974 Big 10 Conference Champion in the 200 yard freestyle. In 1973, he swam on 3 national champion relays, one of which set an American national record. After starting the University of Wyoming Law School in 1974, he accepted a job as a Spanish National Swimming Coach at the national training centers in Barcelona and Madrid. In 1976, he returned to the University of Wyoming where he was the assistant swimming coach for five years.

While at Wyoming, he compete in the professional marathon swimming circuit sanctioned by the World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation in 1977. Stepping up from his usual 200m races, Heiss competed for five years on the professional marathon circuit, ranking #2 behind Indiana teammate John Kinsella in 1977 and 1978, and #3 in 1979. As a professional marathon swimmer he was a podium finisher in the Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean in Quebec, Les Quatorze Milles de Paspébiac in Quebec, 1978 24 Heures La Tuque in Quebec (where he swam 67 miles in a 24-hour period together with teammate John Kinsella), Atlantic City Around the Island Swim in New Jersey, Pepsi Challenge Marathon Swim in Lake Michigan, 1980 Nile River Marathon in Luxor (where he won) and in Cairo (where he won in 1979 and 1980), 1979 Suez Canal Marathon (where he won) in Egypt, Maratona del Golfo Capri-Napoli in Italy, 1979 Maratón Internacional Hernandarias – Parana (where he won) and Maratón Acuática Internacional Santa Fe – Coronda in Argentina. In 1978, his time for the 31-mile crossing of Lake Ontario that was part of the 1978 Canadian National Exhibition, was the 8th fastest recorded for the crossing.

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Steven Munatones