Few individuals in the history of open water swimming have carried the heavy physical, mental, emotional and financial burdens that Stephen Redmond heaped upon his broad shoulders in 2012.

And, in return, few swimmers have enjoyed such a masterful year as did the Irish icon who was voted as the 2012 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year.

Redmond was a man so driven, so committed, so haunted in his quest to achieve the Oceans Seven that he traversed the world, crossing continents as he pushed his body, stretched his soul, worried his family, inspired his community, and moved a nation. He publicly laid everything he had on the line – money, reputation, family and friends – in a relentlessly tenacious assault on the world’s most difficult channels.

Throughout the year with Mother Nature anything but maternalistic, he battled every obstacle known to open water swimmers: unpredictable weather, stinging creatures, oncoming currents, ocean swells, financial burdens, global logistics, night blindness and fierce winds. Failure unmercifully greeted him nearly 50% of the time during 2012, but he eventually wrestled success from the angry seas. His triumphant swims across the Cook Strait in New Zealand, the Molokai Channel in Hawaii, the Tsugaru Channel in Japan, and around Fastnet Rock in Ireland have endeared Redmond to his Irish countrymen and the entire open water swimming community.

For his risk-taking spirit, for his passion for adventure, for his tireless soul that enabled him to achieve the Oceans Seven, for his humble acceptance of the unexpected and of his ultimate success, Stephen Redmond was selected by popular vote as the 2012 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year.

The award honors the man who (1) best embodies the spirit of open water swimming, (2) possesses the sense of adventure, tenacity and perseverance that open water swimmers are known for, and (3) most positively influenced the world of open water swimming.

It was an incredible year of firsts, mosts, fastests and courage by thousands of individuals in the open water swimming world. While Redmond was voted as Man of the Year, the other 2012 nominees were also outstanding representatives and ambassadors of the sport:

1. Benjamin Schulte (Guam) – Fearless Olympic Marathoner
2. Craig Dietz (USA) – The Limbless Waterman
3. Colin Hill (Great Britain) – Olympic Showman
4. Doug Woodring (Hong Kong) – Ocean Environmentalist
5. Milko van Gool (Netherlands) – Humanitarian Swimmer
6. Oussama Mellouli (Tunisia) – Olympic Champion
7. Pierre Lafontaine (Canada) – Able & Ambitious Administrator
8. Ram Barkai (South Africa) – Mindful Ice Man
9. Salvatore Cimmino (Italy) – Swimming in the Seas of the Globe
10. Stephen Redmond (Ireland) – Oceans Seven Pioneer
11. Thomas Lurz (Germany) – Ambassador and Gentleman
12. Trent Grimsey (Australia) – English Channel Record Breaker
13. Wayne Riddin (South Africa) – Midmar Mile Director
14. Wayne Soutter (South Africa) – The Unthinkable
15. Morrie Chiang (Taiwan) – Sun Lake Moon Director

Redmond joins the previous World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year recipients: race director Randy Nutt (USA) in 2008; professional marathon swimmer Petar Stoychev (Bulgaria) in 2009; United Nations Millennium Development ambassador Marcos Diaz (Dominican Republic) in 2010; and swimmer/organizer/administrator Jamie Patrick (USA) in 2011.

Redmond from County Cork, Ireland is a former rugby player and triathlete who has become one of the world’s hardiest marathon swimmers and a famed endurance athlete when he became the first person in history to achieve the Oceans Seven. Redmond has completed the following 7 channels of the Oceans Seven:

August 2009: English Channel in 20 hours 1 minute (England to France)
August 2010: North Channel in 17 hours 17 minutes (Scotland to Ireland)
May 2011: Strait of Gibraltar in 5 hours (Spain to Morocco)
October 2011: Catalina Channel in 12 hours 39 minutes (Catalina Island to California)
February 2012: Cook Strait in 12 hours 30 minutes (South to North Island, New Zealand)
February 2012: Molokai Channel in 22 hours 29 minutes (Molokai to Oahu, Hawaii)
July 2012: Tsugaru Channel in 12 hours 45 minutes (Honshu to Hokkaido, Japan)

Redmond attempted the Molokai Channel once before succeeding on his second attempt. He attempted the Tsugaru Channel in Japan three times before he succeeded on his fourth attempt in July 2012. He was also the first person to swim around treacherous Fastnet Rock, a small island in the Atlantic Ocean and the most southerly point of Ireland.

In the public online vote, young Benjamin Schulte of Guam was second. While Redmond often struggled in front of only a handful of observers and crew in rough oceans far away from the prying eyes of the general public, Schulte faced the absolute polar opposite at the London Olympics. The 16-year-old swimmer raced opponents who were men double his age, significantly stronger and much more experienced in front of 30,000 spectators and a worldwide television audience.

Schulte was a boy among men, a neophyte against veterans; he could have wilted in the Serpentine. But the teenager swam his heart out and showed extreme grace under tremendous pressure. Like Redmond, he proudly represented not only his small nation, but also every open water swimmer who has persevered under the less-than-favorable conditions. While he quickly fell off the pace and swam alone as people around the world watched, he gave it his all like Stephen Redmond, swimming faster than expected and demonstrating a passion for never giving anything less than 100%.

In one of the most awe-inspiring years of open water swimming on record, the community salutes all the WOWSA nominees and Stephen Redmond in particular for his selection as the 2012 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year and the millions of other open water swimmers who he so ably represents.

Photo of Stephen Redmond by Mike Lewis; video of the Oceans Seven Project is courtesy of Red Bull.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association