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Monday, April 23, 2012

Peter Jurzynski, The Life And Times Of A Channel Veteran

International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer Peter Jurzynski has set the bar for Americans who wish to repeatedly swim the English Channel.

Over the course of 31 trips from his native Massachusetts across the pond to England, Jurzynski has made 20 attempts and 14 successful crossings, more than any other American.

As he approaches his 61st birthday in June, he reflects on his channel swimming career, sandwiched between campaigns for public office and, remarkably, even after an open heart bypass surgery in 2008.

Effort, drive, friendships and passion are what have driven and supported him over his four-decade experience.

Over the course of his professional career as a local politician and educator, Jurzynski has been fortunate to be able to set his own agenda and schedule - an ideal lifestyle for a focused marathon swimmer. Outside his local swims in the Boston, his primary focus and participation in the open water swimming world has been his annual English Channel swims. "I began my open water swims while I was a City Councillor-at-large in Springfield, Massachusetts. Thanks to the late James Doty, I participated in my first Boston Light Swim in 1980. Back in those days, we swam to Waterfront Park in the North End [as] this was prior to the Boston Harbor clean-up. Then I first registered for an English Channel swim in 1985, but the conditions did not allow an attempt that summer. .

Nor did Jurzynski have similar good fortune in 1986 when his second visit to Dover resulted in a non-swim due to the weather conditions. He realized quite early in his quest to cross the Channel that luck was part of the equation.

Even though he financed two trips to England and returned home without an attempt, he forged on. "Marathon swimming is an exciting sport, but it is a taxing (expensive) activity. People put have to put in a lot of sacrifices in terms of time, effort and expenses. Plus, you have to deal with nature. We know the tides, but you do not know what the winds will be. My first attempt was successful in 1987 at the age of 36 when I swam from Dover to France in 12 hours 7 minutes."

Once he had one successful crossing under his cap, he was hooked and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Before he called it a career, he eventually made 20 attempts and was successful on 14 swims with two failed swims after a heart bypass surgery. "Nine months after my successful Channel crossing in August 2007 when I crossed in 16 hours 21 minutes at age 56, I had open heart bypass surgery. I attempted Channel swims in my post heart bypass surgery state in both 2009 and 2010, but I was unable to deal with cold water with my thinner body from my heart-healthy diet.

I trained in England again in 2011, but yet again I found the water too cold for a possible 17-18 hour swim. So 2012 is the first year that I have not registered for an English Channel swim since 1985, but I continue to swim vigorously from places like the Serpentine in Hyde Park, London to great pools in Folkestone (UK), Calais (France) and Krakow (Poland) when I am overseas twice a year."

Even without an annual goal to tackle the Channel himself, Jurzynski remains involved in the community. In 2012, he shifted his role from the swimmer in the water to the crew in the escort boat and will serve as an official observer of swims. "Over the year, my training has been very individual. But the most important thing was being able to acclimate to the cold water. I would train [up to] 2 months in the sea along Folkestone which I consider a second home. I appreciate the goodwill given to me by Folkestone citizens over the years. And, of course, training at the City of Boston's L Street Bathhouse (Curley Recreation Center) where I started my cold water swimming in the 1980s."

True to the spirit of open water swimmers, he has always given credit to those who have helped him along the way. "I gained a great knowledge about Folkestone from former Folkestone Mayor John Stockham. Likewise, I have learned a lot about the wonderful people of Bleriot-Page, France and their Mayor Guy Allemand. Channel swimming to me has been a lot more than just swimmers and marathons; it has been about getting to know and establishing friendships with the wonderful people who live year-round in the Folkestone, Kent area and the Calais/Bleriot-Plage area of France. So many people helped, like Tom Watch from Great Britain. Tom is still helping channel swimmers in his 80s. He first started to give me workouts by the [snail] mail. I really got to know the people on the French towns on the other side of the English Channel, as well as in Folkestone. It is a different perspective.."

With 20 attempts and 14 crossings, Jurzynski has experienced the gamut of pleasure and pain. "Back in 2004, I was teaching in New York City and arrived in England on July 1st mainly [fortified with] pool training. I needed acclimate to water temperatures within 3 weeks and the swim took over 17 hours. During the wee hours when I began swim, it was very dark outside without moonlight. Yet back in 1987 on my first and fastest swim of 12:07, there was the real excitement of my first swim. The first one was the best one. I had done three 10-hour swims in 60°F (15.5°C) water prior to that first attempt. [My success] had to do with the training, the mindset and the day that offered good conditions. But with nearly every swim in the Channel, I saw jellyfish, but I had no real problems with them. I had problems with jellyfish training off Ft. Lauderdale [Florida]. But I once even trained near a dolphin in Folkestone."

Like others whose channel swimming career has spanned decades, he has experienced change. "When I first did my swim in August 1987 and for a few swims thereafter, I ate some solids like banana, peaches, candy, biscuits along with juice and coffee. My feedings [in those early years] were about one hour apart for half the swim, then about every 30 minutes thereafter. During my last few swims, I fed more frequently with liquids that was the sports drink Maxim with juice and coffee, every hour for first 4 hours and then every 30 minutes thereafter, sometimes down to even 20 minutes."

But along with change, somethings in open water swimming never change. "You always know that a training swim is finite. You know when you are going to finish. But with an actual Channel attempt, you don't know when it will end. It could be 12 hours, it could be 17 hours. I have learned that the most important thing is acclimatization and doing those long training swims." But he will pass along his experience and wisdom to others. "I still swim vigorously, but I am not filing out any more medicals for an English Channel swim. I am now really in retirement."

And what a tremendous career it has been:

1. August 1987 12 hours 7 minutes
2. August 1988 13 hours 21 minutes
3. August 1992 13 hours 20 minutes
4. July 1996 13 hours 40 minutes
5. July 1997 13 hours 49 minutes
6. August 1998 16 hours 16 minutes
7. July 1999 14 hours 57 minutes
8. July 2000 14 hours 5 minutes
9. July 2002 17 hours 8 minutes
10. August 2003 14 hours 57 minutes
11. July 2004 17 hours 18 minutes
12. July 2005 15 hours 30 minutes
13. July 2006 16 hours 43 minutes
14. August 2007 16 hours 21 minutes

Photos shows Peter Jurzynski with John Stockham, former Mayor of Folkestone, and Mayor Guy Allemand Maire of Bleriot-Plage, France.

Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source


  1. Hello Peter,

    I found it Most intereting to reading your Channel Swimming experiences and I am glad to hear you are still going to contribute by becoming an observer.

    From your friend,
    Cold water swimmer,
    Alan Taylor, Folkestone

  2. jak sie masz Piotr. Bogdan bus Dover -Kraków 08 2012


Thank you very much for your interest in the world of open water swimming.

The Staff of the World Open Water Swimming Association

2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference

Learn more...
Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.


The Global Open Water Swimming Conference is a conference on the sport of open water swimming, marathon swimming and swimming during triathlons and multi-sport endurance events.

The conference which has been attended by enthusiasts and luminaries from 6 continents, is devoted to providing information about the latest trends, race tactics, training techniques, equipment, psychological preparation, race organization and safety practices used in the sports of open water swimming, marathon swimming and triathlons.

The conference's mission is to provide opportunities to listen and meet many of the world's most foremost experts in open water swimming, and to meet and discuss the sport among swimmers, coaches, administrators, event organizers, sponsors, vendors, officials, escort pilots, and volunteers from kayakers to safety personnel.

Dozens of presentations at the 2014 Conference at the Mount Stuart House cover numerous aspects of the vast and growing world of open water swimming where attendees can learn and share the latest trends, race tactics, training modalities, swimming techniques, equipment, race organization, logistics, operations, and safety practices for open water swimming as a solo swimmer, competitive athlete, fitness swimmer, masters swimmer, triathlete, multi-sport athlete, administrator, race promoter, sponsor or referee.

The conference was first held in Long Beach, California as part of the 2010 USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships. It has since been held on the Queen Mary in California, at Columbia University and the United Nations in New York City, and in Cork, Ireland. This year in September, it comes to another iconic location, the Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute in Scotland.

"The Global Open Water Swimming Conference was started due to the desire and need for athletes, coaches, referees, administrators, race directors, promoters and sponsors from around the world to share, collect and learn information about the growing sports of open water swimming, marathon swimming and triathlons," said founder Steven Munatones. "Other swimming conferences usually offering nothing on open water swimming or perhaps a speech or two, but we thought open water swimming deserves its own global conference. It is great that the community shares its information via the online social network, but there is nothing like meeting other open water swimming enthusiasts face-to-face and talking about the sport from morning to night."

Speakers at the conference include English Channel swimmers, ice swimmers, record holders, renowned coaches, world champions, professional marathon swimmers, renowned race directors, officials and administrators from the Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania.

"Because the audience is passionate and educated about the sport and its finest practitioners, the Global Open Water Swimming Conference is also the location of the induction ceremonies for the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame and the annual WOWSA Awards that recognize the World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year, the World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year, the World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year, and the World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year. Special Lifetime Achievement Awards are also occasionally presented to individuals who have made significant contributions to the sport over their career."

The 2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference Programme

Wednesday, September 17th
Leave Glasgow to commence 2-day tour of Scotland [closest international airport is Glasgow]

Thursday, September 18th
Stay Mainland, North of Scotland

Friday, September 19th
14:00 - Swim Loch Lomond
17:00 - Head to Isle of Bute
19:30 - Scottish Banquet
21:30 - Dinner Dance

Saturday, September 20th
09:00 - Registration & Coffee
10:00 - Speeches
12:20 - Lunch and WOWSA Awards
13:40 – Speeches
15:40 - Round Table
19:00 - International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Dinner & Induction Ceremony

Sunday, September 21st
09:00 - Registration & Coffee
10:00 - Speeches
14:30 - Swim in St Ninian's Bay on the Isle of Bute

The luminaries of the open water swimming world who will be honored in Scotland will include:

* Sandra Bucha (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer and International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer
* Jon Erikson (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Claudio Plit (Argentina), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Judith van Berkel-de Njis (Netherlands), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* David Yudovin (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Mercedes Gleitze (Great Britain), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* George Young (Canada), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Dale Petranech (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Contributor
* Melissa Cunningham (Australia), 2013 Irving Davids-Captain Roger Wheeler Memorial Award winner
* Vojislav Mijić (Serbia), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer
* James Anderson (U.S.A.), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Administrator
* Dr. Jane Katz (U.S.A.), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Administrator
* Indonesian Swimming Federation, , International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Organisation
* Elizabeth Fry (U.S.A.), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer
* Pádraig Mallon (Ireland), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year
* Olga Kozydub (Russia), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year
* Bering Strait Swim (international team), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year
* International Ice Swimming Association (Ram Barkai, founder, South Africa), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year

For additional articles on the 2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference, visit:

* Olga Kozydub To Be Honored In Scotland
* Pádraig Mallon To Be Honored In Mount Stuart Castle
* Mount Stuart House, Splendid Setting For Swimming
* Colleen Blair To Kick-off Global Open Water Swimming Conference
* The Man Who Swims Better Than He Walks
* Joining In The Sea Goddess At The Hall Of Fame
* Mercedes Gleitze To Be Honored In Scotland
* The Incredible Career Of Merceded Gleitze
* Jon Erikson To Be Honoured In Florida
* The Incredible Career Of Mercedes Gleitze
* St Ninian's Bay To Host International Swim Conference

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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