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 !!!

Laura Lopez-Bonilla swims La Jolla Cove… then the Catalina Channel!

“It wasn’t an easy swim, wind against tide, and not sun once daylight broke. I had to overcome surgery, months of physical therapy, thyroid disease, and a last minute lower back concern treated by a great chiropractor in La Jolla. Phew!!!!! All put behind as I stepped into the dark waters of the Catalina Channel. As I took the first strokes, I knew I could. I have met some great people on the journey: Dr Michael Ackerman, Mimi and Richard Sampson, Heidi, and the crew of Outrider. And a huge thanks to my friend Pat Frank his unconditional support along this journey.”

Sometimes we have turning points in our lives and events such as completing a channel swim can be transformational. Laura is at just that point… her life is taking a turn for the better and this turn is marked by her successful Catalina Channel swim. I had some work commitments and wasn’t able to be on the escort boat for Laura’s swim, but we were able to share a few swims in La Jolla Cove before she went up to Los Angeles for her big swim. I met Laura 10 years ago when I was her observer for her first English Channel swim in 2002. Laura become the second Spanish woman to swim the English Channel that day and we’ve been good friends ever since. One of the best gifts of this sport is the lifelong friendships forged on various beaches around the world, as we train for and step in the water to swim from one body of land to another.

Laura’s Catalina Channel swim turned out to be more difficult than most this season, as she battled choppy water and wind the whole way across. Well-supported by crew and determined, Laura persevered. Knowing this was a turn-a-round moment in her life, she would not give up, even when during a particularly dark hour of her swim Laura was told she would have to swim 4 1/2 more hours to the finish. Swallowing that information and processing it took a while, but she re-calibrated her mind and swam on, knowing she would be successful, no matter how long it took. 14 hours and 31 minutes after stepping in the sea at Catalina Island, Laura Lopez-Bonilla crawled out onto Terranea Beach, a successful Catalina Channel swimmer.

Laura had never been greeted at the finish of either of her successful English Channel swims, as she swam in to the beach in France during the middle of the night. This swim had a special surprise in store for Laura…

Our friends from Mexico City, Nora Toledano, Mariel Hawley, Gela Limonchi and Ariadna Del Villar were in town for Mariel’s swim the following day. All swam out to escort Laura in to the beach. What a welcoming committee!!!

Muchas Felicidades, Laura !!!