In what may be the most remarkable examples of open water swimming versatility are the six crossings of the Catalina Channel by Tina Neill.
In 2007, she completed a traditional 32.3 km crossing of the Catalina Channel from Santa Catalina Island to the Southern California mainland swimming freestyle in 9 hours 26 minutes 45 seconds at the age of 41.
Nearly a year later in 2008, Neill completed a 64.6 km two-way crossing of the Catalina Channel between Santa Catalina Island and the Southern California mainland in 22 hours 2 minutes 46 seconds. Her first leg was completed in 10 hours 40 minutes and her second leg was completed in 11 hours 22 minutes.
A mere 16 days after her double crossing, Neill completed her fourth Catalina Channel crossing from Santa Catalina Island to the Southern California mainland in 10 hours 37 minutes swimming backstroke. Her crossing remains the fastest backstroke crossing in history.
On September 4th 2014, she swam backstroke in the opposite direction – from the mainland to Catalina Island – in 13 hours 27 minutes 48 seconds at the age of 48.
Two days later, she completed her sixth crossing from Catalina Island to the mainland in 10 hours 33 minutes swimming freestyle.
“Each time I completed a Catalina crossing, it has been in a different way,” she humbly explained from her adopted Southern Californian home.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How did you do such as fast turnaround on both of these swims, especially after your double crossing in 2008?
Tina Neill: I had completed Lake Zurich and Loch Lomond 6 days apart in 2006, I think. It was a fun trip to Europe. Not knowing at the time, but most likely this experience gave me confidence to complete two longer swims in a short period of time.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What did you do (or not do) to recover so quickly?
Tina Neill: I did some swimming, but little training. Recovery comes through going on with life and not focusing on a single event as more important than life. Although I put a full effort into an event, I never want to finish thinking I could not have completed another hour or more.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: On your 2014 crossings, did you just stay over on Catalina Island, rest a day, and then decide to swim back freestyle?
Tina Neill: Well, on the middle day, Emily Evans, a friend, Catalina Channel swimmer, and part of my crew, and I ran the spring Catalina Marathon course in reverse direction. From Avalon to Isthmus. I had completed other long runs on Catalina Island and enjoy the scenery and bison.
I wanted to swim backstroke from the mainland to Catalina Island because I had swum it the other direction the first time. I was very disappointed in the Mainland-to-Catalina time.
The crew on the boat had a great time playing in the water while we were running through the hills.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Were these four crossings pre-planned – or did you make a decision to do the second swim upon the successful completion of the first swims?
Tina Neill: There were all planned well in advance. I prepared for both swims as one single event.
My swimming has evolved. I did not set out to swim the English Channel or any other long swim. It simply started while driving along a large Minnesota lake thinking that it could be fun swimming the length of that lake.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Were you a competitive backstroker as an age-group swimmer or college swimmer?
Tina Neill: Yes, I swam backstroke and individual medley. In college, I would often swim freestyle sets backstroke.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What made you want to do backstroke across the channel in the first place?
Tina Neill: When I finished the English Channel [swimming] freestyle, a friend asked if I would swim it a second time and I blurted out, ‘Yes I would swim it Backstroke.”. Not sure why I said that, but two years later I did. It continued to Catalina swims and beyond.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What specific problems or issues do you face in a backstroke crossing that are not apparent in a freestyle crossing? For example, does the escort boat have to be placed in a different position? Do you have kayakers aside you? What do you do during the feedings?
Tina Neill: Backstroke is enjoyable in the ocean. I enter the ocean back first and exit back first. During feedings I keep my back toward the finish. The escort boat is alongside of me and there is typically a kayaker in the water, as there is for most swims. It is simple to sight off the escort boat. You do need to wear the glow sticks on your front side.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How do you plan your swims?
Tina Neill: I do not have a bucket list and swim ideas come to me when they come to me.
The Queen of the Catalina Channel has realized a lot of ideas during her marathon swimming career in addition to her six Catalina crossings and twice completing the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming:
* In 2001, she completed a 45.8 km Manhattan Island Marathon Swim in 8 hours 7 minutes at the age of 35.
* In 2003, she completed a crossing of the English Channel in 11 hours 21 minutes at the age of 37.
* In 2005, she set the record for the fastest backstroke crossing of the English Channel in 13 hours 22 minutes at the age of 39.
* In 2006, she completed a 34.8 km crossing of Loch Lomond in Scotland in 11 hours 12 minutes 33 seconds at the age of 40.
* In 2011, she completed a 42 km crossing of the Molokai Channel from Molokai Island to Oahu in 17 hours 17 minutes.
* In 2011, she completed a 30.5 km) crossing of the Santa Cruz Channel from Santa Cruz Island to the California mainland in 10 hours 32 minutes.
* In 2012, she completed a 27.3 km crossing of the Kaulakahi Channel from Kauai to Niihau, Hawaii.
* In 2012, she completed her second 45.8 km Manhattan Island Marathon Swim in 8 hours 37 minutes at the age of 46.
* In 2012, she was the first person to complete a crossing between San Clemente Island and the California mainland with a 28 hour 41 minute effort over the 83.6 km channel.
* In 2012, she swam on the HTC Relay with Forrest Nelson, Mike Mitchell, Kent Nicholas, and Emily Evans that swam 25 hours 48 minutes from San Clemente Island, around the western edge of Catalina Island, to the California mainland for a 83.6 km channel swim.
* In 2013, she swam on the Team FTD relay with Forrest Nelson, Becky Jackman-Beeler, Mike Mitchell, Kent Nicholas, and Emily Evans in an unprecedented 6-way Catalina Channel crossing totaling 61 hours 7 minutes.
* In 2015, she completed a 34.2 km crossing of Lake Tahoe in 11 hours 18 minutes at the age of 49.
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