If you haven’t hopped aboard the podcast train, you are missing out on hour upon hour upon hour of free, compelling, moving entertainment. It’s not all good, of course, but one of the best is called The Memory Palace. It’s a monthly historical podcast written and narrated by Nate DiMeo, a man with a magical voice. Listen to him, and he will take you back to yesteryear, without that funny 1930’s radio guy accent. You can find it here on The Memory Palace website, or look for it on iTunes in the Podcast app, but however you tune in, please start with Episode 93: Local Channels. Start with this episode, because it’s all about Florence Chadwick, this month’s Senior In The News, San Diego’s own Queen of the Channels.
Usually we profile local and regional seniors who are setting records, hitting milestones, and inspiring those around them, and Florence fits right in, as she was born in San Diego in 1918. She grew up in Point Loma, swimming in the bay and ocean as a little girl, and at age 10, she became the youngest person ever to swim across the San Diego Bay. At age 11, she won a 2.5 mile open ocean race off La Jolla against adults, and would go on to win it nine more times. She realized she wasn’t a ‘pool’ kind of person, and spent the rest of her life conquering the expanses of open water that people used to be afraid to cross in boats.
In 1950, when she was 31, she first attempted her life-long dream of crossing the English Channel. She had to save up the money from a secretarial job to finance her own support entourage, despite a contest being held that same summer. The Daily Mail wouldn’t let her enter their Channel-crossing contest, which they were sponsoring in June of 1950 for the half-century, because no one had heard of her. So she swam on her own in August, with her retired San Diego cop dad in the escort boat behind her, and became the second woman to cross, and beat the record set in 1926 by an hour and 11 minutes. When she came home, San Diego gave her a ticker tape parade!
After that she was famous, and could attempt any stretch of water that caught her fancy. Here’s a short list, from a website dedicated to her called Queen of the Channel, of her accomplishments:
- First woman to swim the English Channel both ways, 1950 (France to England);
- First woman to swim the English Channel both ways, 1951, 1953, 1955 (England to France);
- First woman to swim the Catalina Channel (1952);
- First woman to swim the Straits of Gibraltar (1953);
- First woman to swim the Bosporus (one way) 1953;
- First woman to swim the Dardanelles (round trip) 1953.
Florence eventually ran out of tricky waterways to conquer, and became a swimming coach and public fitness speaker and advocate. She earned a law degree, and became a stockbroker in her 50’s, ultimately becoming a vice-president at the First Wall Street Corporation. In 1970, she was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame Inducted, and in 2014, the San Diego Union-Tribune selected her as one their “52 Most Influential Sports Figures.” Florence died of leukemia at age 76, and her ashes were scattered into the Pacific, off Point Loma. Florence wasn’t an Olympian, because pools were not her thing, but she never backed down from an open water challenge, and she’s an inspiring example to seniors and swimmers everywhere, no matter how far they want to go.