Wrigley Marathon Swim Re-dux Undone by Sharks

Wrigley Marathon Swim Re-dux Undone by Sharks

In 1927, one of the most famous marathon swims in history occurred when William Wrigley (of chewing gum fame) sponsored a US$25,000 winner-take-all race from Santa Catalina Island to the Southern California coast.

In the dead of winter in the cold Pacific Ocean in January, George Young opened up the eyes of the world when he became the only person out of a 102-person field to win the Wrigley Ocean Marathon Swim. 15 hours and 44 minutes in the Catalina Channel and George was US$25,000 richer and made famous as the news of his exploit raced around the world by telegraph.

Between 1927 and 1970, only 17 other swimmers successfully crossed the 21-mile Catalina Channel, but the 1970’s saw renowned swimmers like Lynne Cox and Penny Dean conquer the channel among 29 crossings by 17 swimmers in the decade of the 1970’s.

50 years after George’s exploit, local Southern California swimmers Gerry Rodrigues and Pat Hines wanted to recreate the appeal and magic of the Wrigley Ocean Marathon Swim. Within two months, they raised US$50,000 in sponsorship, primarily from a beer distributer. As the escort pilots were organized, athletes recruited and race rules approved, the swim looked to become a reality within a relatively short period of time. Excitement was in the air and the allure of marathon swimming was drawing more and more attention.

However, a very unfortunate tragedy brought the plans back down to earth. A friend of Gerry’s was supposedly killed by a shark swimming right off of the Southern California coast (his body was never found, just his board with a bite out of it).

The news immediately caught the attention of the sponsors who asked Gerry and Pat if this could possibly occur during the second edition of the pro Catalina Channel swim. “Anything can occur in an ocean marathon swim. It is unlikely and there are no guarantees, but this is a dynamic marine environment,” explained Gerry.

That was all the sponsor had to hear – and all sponsorship was off and the race cancelled.

Compared to other endurance sports, marathon swimming is certainly at a whole other level in terms of risk and risk management.

Copyright © 2010 by Open Water Source
Steven Munatones