Ted Erikson Passes, But His Legacy Lives On

Ted Erikson Passes, But His Legacy Lives On

In every sport, there are key moments where people seem to do the impossible, events that catapult someone’s name into the history books. In marathon swimming, one such moment came 60 years ago, on August 22, 1961, on Lake Michigan” wrote Rebecca McPhee about the 60th anniversary of Ted Erikson’s swim in Lake Michigan.

His International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame career is partly summarized here. The 93-year-old Erikson, who swam for decades in Lake Michigan and was photographed by David Travis in 2019, is now no longer among the swimming and academic communities. He passed away this morning in his nursing home.

Photo: David Travis
Ted Erikson on WOWSA Live in 2020

The 92-year-old International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Swimmer spoke with Ned Denison about:

* starting his swimming career in Big Sandy in Montana and his open water swimming career in Key West, Florida
* earning US$3,750 in 1961 (value today: US$32,398) for his first professional marathon swim in Lake Michigan and dealing with race director Jim Moran
* eating Cheerios in the middle of his Lake Michigan swims to calm his stomach
* competing in the 800m and 1500m at the 1947 All Navy Swim meet in Jacksonville, Florida
* losing to Dennis Matuch and Greta Anderson in 1962 Jim Moran Lake Michigan race
* losing to Abou-Heif in 1963 Jim Moran Lake Michigan Swim
* finally breaking Antonio Abertondo’s two-way English Channel record of 43 hours 10 minutes on his third attempt with a 30 hour 3 minute swim
* listening to his daughter’s advice when she instructed him, “You don’t have to swim if you don’t want to” during the second half of his first two-way English Channel attempt
* following a computer model on his second two-way attempt in the Channel
* swimming from the Farallon Islands while his support crew was shooting at sharks
* the nurse who could not find a pulse when he was pulled from the water on his first Farallon Islands attempt and then he was reported dead
* remembering other Farallon Islands swimmers including Lt. Colonel Stewart Evans, Joe Locke, and Kimberley Chambers
* remembering his son Jon Erikson who always wanted to beat his father’s records – and finally did with his historic three-way crossing
* exhausting his total capabilities in the physical, emotional and mental realms throughout his life
* advising other swimmers to maximize their full potential and balance your talents

Ted Erikson on Open Water Wednesday in 2010
Ted Erikson at Illinois Institute of Technology in 2016

Erikson, born in 1928, was an American chemist, scientist, and open water swimmer who was inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame as an Honor Swimmer in 1978 for his exploits in waters ranging from the English Channel to the Farallon Islands. The 24-Hour Club member was also the father and coach of Jon Erikson, also a renowned International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Swimmer.

Erikson held a B.S. ChE (’52) and an M.S. Chem (’59) from the Illinois Institute of Technology and a Gas-Surface Interaction diploma (1965) from MIT. He spent 23 years at the Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute as a Senior Chemist and held 2 patents, wrote 9 publications, and taught chemistry, math, and physics, and was a former submariner.

He started marathon swimming at the age of 33 in 1961 when he became the first person to swim 59 km along the Lake Michigan shoreline from Chicago to Michigan City in 36 hours 37 minutes. He later swam from England to France in 12 hours 25 minutes in 1964 in a two-way crossing attempt that was aborted after 23 hours on the second leg. He set a record in 1965 by completing a double crossing of the English Channel in 30 hours 3 minutes on his third two-way attempt. His record stood for 10 years until it was broken by his own son, Jon.

He set a record for swimming 50.6 km in 14 hours 35 minutes from the Farallon Islands to a point under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in 1967 on his third attempt.

He competed in eight professional marathon swims in Lake Michigan, Atlantic City, the Lac La Tuque 24-hour relay with Dennis Matuch in Canada and the Traversée internationale du lac Memphrémagog in Canada.

His famous Lake Michigan swims included a 59 km (36.75-mile) swim from Chicago, Illinois to Michigan City, Indiana, USA in 1961 in 36 hours 37 minutes, a 80.4 km (50-mile) swim from Chicago to Kenosha, Wisconsin, USA in 35 hours 37 minutes in 1962, and a 96.5 km (60-mile) swim from Chicago to St. Joseph, Michigan, USA in 37 hours 25 minutes in 1963 where he completed one of the great moves of open water swimming history. These three swims were beautifully chronicled in Conrad Wennerberg’s authoritative book, Winds, Waves, and Sunburn – A Brief History of Marathon Swimming.

He later guided four protégés across the English Channel.

On his first attempt of the Farallon Islands in 1966, he went hypothermic and was reported dead to his wife. But he was revived, and failed again on his second attempt of the Farallon Islands. He waited another year before trying again and succeeded in a new route that the Farallon Islands Swimming Federation re-started in 2011.

Erikson was affiliated for years with the Promontory Point Open Water Swimmers.

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Steven Munatones