Walter Poenisch Honored By International Marathon Swimming Hall Of Fame
“Walter Poenisch joins the highest echelon of marathon swimmers with recognition of his prolific career as an Honor Swimmer by the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame,” said Steven Munatones.
“As a dual inductee of both the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, Walter stands with the likes of Abdul Latif Abou Heif (Egypt), Alison Streeter MBE (UK), Annette Kellerman (Australia), Captain Matthew Webb (UK), Chad Hundeby (USA), Claudio Plit (Argentina), Cliff Lumsdon (Canada), Cynthia Nicholas (Canada), David Yudovin (USA), Desmond Renford (Australia), Florence Chadwick (USA), George Young (Canada), Commander Gerald Forsberg, OBE, RN (UK), Gertrude Ederle (USA), Greta Andersen (Denmark/USA), Herman Willemse (Netherlands), Horacio Iglesias (Argentina), Irene van der Laan (Netherlands), James ‘Doc’ Counsilman (USA), John Kinsella (USA), Johnny Weissmuller (USA), Jon Erikson (USA), Judith van Berkel-de Njis (Netherlands), Keo Nakama (USA), Kevin Murphy (UK), Larisa Ilchenko (Russia), Lynne Cox (USA), Maarten van der Weijden (Netherlands), Mercedes Gleitze (UK), Monique Wildschut (Netherlands), Michael Read, MBE (UK), Paul Asmuth (USA), Penny Lee Dean, Ph.D. (USA), Petar Stoychev (Bulgaria), Sandra Bucha (USA), Shelley Taylor-Smith (Australia), Willy van Rysel (Netherlands), and Marcella MacDonald (USA). For marathon swimmers, there is no higher honor than to be held in such high esteem by both major Halls of Fame.”
He established a stand-alone organization – led by independent observer and authenticator J. Marvin Mims – called the International Federation of Professional Ocean Swimmers and Divers to document his multiple world record solo swims.
Mims, president of the International Federation of Professional Ocean Swimmers and Divers, created a set of rules that allowed for use of fins and a snorkel along with swimming within a shark cage and allowing for a swimmer to get out of the water and rest on his escort boat up to four times per swim for no longer than five minutes at a time in order to administer emergency medicine, receive critical nourishment, or for any reason that directly threatened the life of the swimmer).
Bruce Wigo, then CEO of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, was always highly respectful of Walter and his achievements and oversaw his induction in the International Swimming Hall of Fame as a Pioneer Swimmer in its Class of 2017. “This was one of the catalysts to nominate Walter for the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame. In addition, members of the Marathon Swimmers Federation held Walter’s organization as one of the standard bearers of solo marathon swim documentation and transparency for marathon swims conducted outside the traditional governing bodies of the sport,” commented Munatones.
Ned Denison, chairperson of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, described Poenisch’s career, “Walter broke his own record for the longest ocean swim [under the rules of the International Federation of Professional Ocean Swimmers and Divers.
At the age of 65, Walter became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida: 207 km in 34 hours 15 minutes on July 13th 1978, when he reached Little Duck Key, Florida. Walter swam under pre-announced rules, under independent witness and the observation report was in the public record. The International Federation of Professional Ocean Swimmers and Divers rules under which Walter swam allowed for use of fins, snorkel, and a shark cage and getting out of the water four times for no longer than five minutes at a time to administer emergency medicine, receive critical nourishment, or for any reason that directly threatened the life of the swimmer. These facts were never in dispute and he broke his own record for the longest ocean swim.
As a young man, his occupation was listed as a cookie baker, rodeo competitor and strongman; he was named the World’s Strongest Endurance Swimmer for towing 30-ton paddlewheel boats while swimming with his hands and feet shackled. Walter was late to marathon swimming at the 50 years – first entering, but not finishing, the 1963 Jim Moran Lake Michigan Swim.
Walter set world records for the longest ocean swims before the Cuba swim:
* In 1972, he completed longest ocean marathon swim 146 km in the Straits of Florida in the Atlantic Ocean that was called the Swim of the Century.
* In 1976, he broke his own marathon swim record with a 197.1 km swim from Marathon in the Florida Keys to Duck Key on the tip of the Florida peninsula that was called the Bicentennial Swim in a red, white and blue shark cage.
Motivated by the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, Poenisch conceived of the idea of Swim for Peace, swimming from Cuba to the USA to further better relations between my country and Cuba. It took him 15 years of letter writing and lobbying, to both governments, to obtain permission.
Cuban leader Fidel Castro was on hand to support Walter, proposing a toast honoring his efforts and his dream of peace between their two nations, on his 65th birthday. The next day, he started and completed the swim.”
Poenisch, called one of the early ambassadors of Speedo Diplomacy, will be recognized and represented by his wife and escort crew member Fayette Poenisch [shown below] at the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame induction ceremony that will be held in New York City on May 2nd 2020.
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