James Tout Crosses The Thin Red Line

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Four years ago, 62-year-old James Tout of Austin, Texas was a far cry from achieving the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming.

The Hawaiian Ironman, marathon runner, and English Channel swimmer was a far removed from this athletic days. Or so he thought.

One of my doctors told me that there was nothing but a thin red line that separated me from death.

My diagnosis of congestive heart failure on July 21st 2011 took everything away from me. I had been symptomatic for years, but the diagnosis was something different. It devastated me. I couldn’t lift anymore and running or riding was out of the question.”

The 10-time Manhattan Island Marathon swimmer could not even do a flip turn because he couldn’t hold my breath long enough to streamline off the wall. His endurance athletic past – or even a 50-yard freestyle – seemed to be over. Until one day he saw the news on television and his life turned around unexpectedly.

I saw a news program that covered President George Bush who jumped out of a plane to celebrate his 90th birthday. He also jumped when he was 75, 80, and 85 years old. A smile crossed my face; I thought, ‘That is simply amazing.’ And to be have a disability and still do it put President Bush’s accomplishment on a different level.”

He spoke about the impact of President Bush’s activities with his wife. They talked about his own history at the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. “I did MIMS for the first time in 1985. I was also there in 1995 and in 2005. The 2015 race would be my 30-year anniversary.”

But he was realistic with his physical – and mental – limitations. “Even though my doctors told me my congestive heart failure was controlled with medication, mentally I was lost.”

But he got over his mental hurdle and stepped up his training big-time. Then he attempted to do something that would make men half his age think twice: he was going to attempt to complete his 10th swim around Manhattan Island only three days after an attempt of the Catalina Channel. Not only did he have to swim 28.5 miles after a 20.2-mile channel crossing, he had to travel cross-country to achieve his goal – not an easy task for anyone and certainly not for a 62-year-old with heart disease.

But two major swims within four days was what resulted.

I wish I hadn’t held back at Catalina but a successful crossing is good even if my 11 hour 18 minute time is kinda slow. I had thought that I could get under 10 hours or at least breath my 10:33 English Channel time, but I couldn’t stop thinking of the effect a hard Catalina Channel crossing would have on [my] New York [swim]. I kept hearing Morty Berger’s words ringing in my ears, ‘Once it looks like you’re going to make it, take it easy or you will pay for it later doing Manhattan.’

He did and he not only achieved the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming, but also almost unbelievably swam his fastest Manhattan Island marathon time in 11 attempts over a 30-year period. “I did MIMS at age 32, the English Channel at age 34, and the Catalina Channel at the age of 62. I managed a personal record at MIMS on September 23rd in a time of 7 hours and 31 minutes. Of the 11 starts and 10 finishes, my previous fastest was 7 hours and 44 minutes that I did back in 1991. This year’s swim was also a big improvement from my last place finish of 9 hours and 23 minutes that I did in 2006 when I was in end stage heart failure.”

Tout did eventually cross the thin red line as his doctor predicted. But it was in the opposite, more positive, direction.

Copyright © 2015 by World Open Water Swimming Association