Mariel Hawley swims the Catalina Channel for 100 smiles… with a smile!

On August 25, Mariel Hawley from Mexico City swam the Catalina Channel in 11 hours and 27 minutes. Mariel is the first Mexican woman to achieve the Triple Crown of marathon swimming: successful swims of the English Channel, the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim and the Catalina Channel. Mariel also swam to raise money to provide surgeries for 100 low-income children with cleft palate and hare lip – 100 smiles. Mariel swam from Catalina Island to Terranea Beach in Palos Verdes with a smile the whole way, herself. I was her official observer, officiating for the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation, and it was my honor and privilege to have been a part of Mariel’s very special swim.

Mariel’s coach is Mexican channel swimming legend Nora Toledano, with 6 solo English Channel swims to her credit. Mariel’s stalwart crew of kayaker and buddy swimmer Gela Limonchi and physician Ariadna Del Villa supported both this swim and her English Channel swim last summer. Javier Gutierrez provided enthusiastic buddy swimming and cheering the whole way from Catalina Island to the mainland. Don Rasky and Kim Miller guided Mariel in their kayaks and John Pittman and David Caudle piloted the escort boat, Outrider. Between Nora, Javier, Mariel and me we have 13 English Channel solo swims between us! We were ready for anything!

We motored from Long Beach to Catalina Island and arrived around 11:30pm, where Mariel prepared to swim. Nora applied Vaseline around her suitstraps for chafing and sunscreen, as Mariel chatted enthusiastically. We all offered words of encouragement, especially “hang in there until the sun comes up… it’s a whole new ball game then!” The nighttime is the hardest part of the Catalina Channel swim, with the swimmer unable to see a horizon and often feeling disoriented and nauseated. This is also the coldest part of the swim, as the chilly night wind blows on tired shoulders, causing chills and doubts to creep in during the darkest hours just before dawn.

Mariel has her game face on!

Mariel swam on a balmy night in calm seas. This must have seemed quite pleasant after her English Channel swim last summer, when she swam in conditions so rough most swimmers would not have been able to finish. At sunrise, we could see the cliffs of Point Vicente ahead of us, but it would be several hours until we reached them. Mariel remained cheerful the whole way, buoyed up by her crew and knowing that her swim would be providing smiles for 100 children. We marveled at her fortitude and good cheer. Even though she was tired, Mariel never complained, only smiled.

As we neared the finish, hundreds of dolphins swam by, as if to welcome Mariel. Still smiling, she swam on. Mariel swam in to the beach just below the Terranea Resort, greeted by some tourists who happened to be there and probably wondering what was going on! Javier swam in with her as we cheered from the Outrider, just offshore. Mariel came back aboard the Outrider happy and victorious, now the first Mexican woman to complete the Triple Crown of marathon swimming, and smiling her beautiful smile for the 100 new smiles that would now be possible because of her swim.

Muchas Felicidades Mariel !!!