The Year That Boosted Walter Poenisch To (The Hall Of) Fame

Courtesy of International Swimming Hall of Fame and Fayette Poenisch, International Federation of Professional Ocean Swimmers and Divers.

Walter Poenisch, an honor swimmer in the International Swimming Hall of Fame, was elected to become an Honor Swimmer in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame this year.

Walter Poenisch established his legacy with some U.S. – Cuban Speedo Diplomacy as he swam across the Straits of Florida in 1978. The 65-year-old’s Swim for Peace of 128.8 miles (207.2 km) was completed in 34 hours 15 minutes. The 65-year-old’s achievement was the reason why he was announced yesterday as an Honor Swimmer in the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

During 1978, there was a number of other luminaries who established their own marks in the sport.

When I was swimming in college, the thought of drowning never crossed my mind,” said Olympic champion John Kinsella after his 13 hour 49 minute victory at the 1978 Lake Ontario professional marathon race. “Now, I’m aware there’s a danger.”

When the thunderstorm hit 90 minutes from the finish, I was disappearing under those 9-foot waves. Competitive swimming and marathon swimming are two completely different sports. The only thing they have in common is the fact that you’re swimming. Everything else is different.”

Kinsella knows well. He not only won a silver medal at the 1968 Olympics and a gold medal at the 1972 Olympics, but he also had a stellar record-setting career in Hinsdale Central High School and Indiana University.

But in the summer of 1978 while Poenisch was planning and completing his Straits of Florida crossing, Kinsella was also on a tear, winning 7 professional marathon races around the world. The professional races also included a race across the English Channel, won by Alawi Makki of Saudi Arabia in 9 hours 54 minutes.

Makki’s was a fast swim in the pre-GPS era, but not nearly as fast as the Beamonesque crossing of Southern Californian Penny Dean who broke Nasser Elshazly‘s then-existing England-to-France record of 8 hours 45 minutes with a 7 hour 40 minute crossing – a 65-minute improvement.

Meanwhile, 16-year-old John York, another International Marathon Swimming Hall of Famer, completed a 16 hours 42 minute two-way crossing of the Catalina Channel on his second attempt in that same summer of 1978.

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