Kathleen Wilson has quietly introduced and firmly established marathon swimming in the Carolinas for over 26 years, through her completion of many well-known swims in the sport and as a strong advocate of general aquatics and marathon swimming specifically. She started the annual Swim Around Charleston in 2011 upon seeing the need for an intermediate length swim in the southeastern states, establishing cordial relationships with, and working alongside federal, state and local safety agencies. Her work in marathon swimming, advocacy for the sport and teaching/coaching have earned her South Carolina’s highest honor- the Order of the Palmetto, admittance into the SC Athletic Hall of Fame, the Liberty Fellowship (unique to South Carolina, awarded to residents who have achieved success and show promise in moving the state forward) and a spot in the Olympic torch relay upon passing through Charleston. Kathleen works in aquatics outside of marathon swimming assisting breast cancer patients with recovery and Parkinson’s patients maintain balance and mobility. Her SwimCalm program (adults with severe fear of water who wish to swim) has produced over 100 adults helped to date.
On 19 October 2001, she was awarded the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest civilian honor by Governor Hodges.
She was one of the early pioneers of the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming and the Grand Slam of Open Water Swimming.
On 14 May 2018, she was inducted in the South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame.
Open Water Swimming Career Highlights
She completed the Swim Around Key West in 1997
She is the race director for the 12-mile (19.3 km) Swim Around Charleston event.
On 12 June 1999, she completed the 45.8 km Manhattan Island Marathon Swim in New York City in 7 hours 37 minutes 20 seconds at the age of 36.
On 25 August 2001, she completed a crossing of the English Channel from England to France in 13 hours 10 minutes at the age of 38.
On 22 April 2003, she completed the 37 km Tampa Bay Marathon Swim in Florida in 12 hours 26 minutes 30 seconds at the age of 39.
On 10 August 2004, she completed a crossing of the Catalina Channel from Santa Catalina Island to the Southern California mainland in 9 hours 36 minutes 34 seconds at the age of 41 to achieve the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming and the Grand Slam of Open Water Swimming.
On 24 July 2005, she completed the International Self-Transcendence Marathon Swim in Lake Zurich, Switzerland in 8 hours 56 minutes 39 seconds at the age of 42.
In 2006, she completed the 25 km Swim Across the Sound in Connecticut in 8 hours 51 minutes.
On 14 August 2007, she completed a 30.6 km crossing of the Santa Barbara Channel from Santa Cruz Island to the California mainland in Ventura County in 11 hours 43 minutes at the age of 44.
On 26 July 2008, she completed a 14.4 km crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain to Morocco in 4 hours 23 minutes at the age of 45.
In October 2010, she completed the first circumnavigation around Charleston, South Carolina harbor I-526 to I-526 at the age of 47.
In 2010, she was honored by a Liberty Fellowship for her leadership services as a Councilmember in the City of Charleston; Founder and Creator of SwimCalm; Principal Harpist with Charleston Symphony Orchestra.
On 9 July 2011, she completed the 16.1 km Kingdom Swim in Lake Memphremagog, Vermont in 5 hours 29 minutes 6 seconds at the age of 48.
In September 2012, she completed a 42 km crossing of the Molokai Channel from Molokai to Oahu in Hawaii in 20 hours 49 minutes at the age of 49.
In October 2013, she completed an unratified swim from Hwy 41 bridge, Wando river to I-526 William Westmoreland bridge, 40k in 8:36 at the age of 50.
On 21 June 2014, she completed the 57.9 km END-WET marathon swim down the Red River from North Dakota to Minnesota in 9 hours 9 minutes at the age of 51.
On 6 May 2015, she completed a 13.3 km swim in Saguaro Lake at the SCAR Swim Challenge in Arizona in 3 hours 50 minutes 7 seconds at the age of 51.
On 7 May 2015, she completed a 14.1 km swim in Canyon Lake at the SCAR Swim Challenge in Arizona in 3 hours 52 minutes 50 seconds at the age of 51.
On 8 May 2015, she completed a 22.8 km swim in Apache Lake at the SCAR Swim Challenge in Arizona in 8 hours 49 minutes 50 seconds at the age of 51.
On 9 May 2015, she completed a 10 km swim in Roosevelt Lake at the SCAR Swim Challenge in Arizona in 3 hours 25 minutes 27 seconds at the age of 51.
January 2017 brought bad news in the form of grade 4 tears to both rotator cuffs, a lifetime of swimming and decades as a professional musician. Kathleen underwent surgeries ten weeks apart to repair cuffs and was told to retire from marathon swimming.
On 11 May, 2019, she returned to competition in the O Crud 10K, held in Charlotte, NC in 2 hours 28 minutes at the age of 56.
On 6 August, 2019, she completed an unratified, very quiet test swim of the 30.6k Bogue Sound, NC, swimming from the Cape Carteret Bridge to the Morehead City Bridge in 10:32 at the age of 57.
On 6 September, 2020, she completed a 18.4k swim around Coronado Island, CA in 5:12 at the age of 58.
On 30 May, 2022, she completed a double crossing of the Sea of Galilee, first American female, second female in history in 16:45 at the age of 58.
She established SwimCalm LLC.
Wilson is the creator of SwimCalm, an organization dedicated to the high percentage of adults who experience some fear to a profound fear of the water and teaching them about its properties while learning how to feel safe in the water. Its services helps eliminate the fear that in some cases has followed people for a lifetime. SwimCalm classes are vastly different from traditional lessons in that classes are small, students control the pace of the classes, no student is ever pressured into attempting any skill and the entire premise is to have fun while demystifying the water. There are no exams and there is no skill checklist. Because of this, SwimCalm has an extremely high success rate with students who attend the course with a money-back guarantee.
First Swim Around Charleston
Wilson’s unprecedented 16.25-mile marathon swim around Charleston started at the James B. Edwards Bridge before daybreak and ended six hours and 58 minutes later at the General William B. Westmoreland Bridge. The 47-year-old politician and harpist says she did the swim to create interest in holding an endurance swim in Charleston with a goal to establish a non-profit dedicated to serving the needs of aquatics within the greater Charleston area.
Swim Around Charleston race
Wilson is the race director for the 12-mile (19.3 km) Swim Around Charleston that takes place in the Charleston waterways and harbor. It is a sanctioned United States Masters Swimming event for on 23 September 2012.
The swim begins at Remleys Point in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, proceeds across the Cooper River to the Charleston side, parallel the peninsular city and proceeds north up the Ashley River to the finish point at I-526. A Charleston county boat landing serves as the finish.
The race start is calculated for participant safety and to allow as many swimmers the best possible chance of finishing. Very fast swimmers may have to swim through the last of the outgoing tide in the Ashley river. There is a time limit of six hours to complete the event. Swimmers unable to finish in the allotted time are removed from the water at the discretion of the race director.
Role in Swimming Community
Special Honors Marathon/Channel Swimming
Goals in open water swimming
Swim for as many years as my body will give me and continue to share my knowledge with anyone who asks for it.