Vrije Slag By Herman Willemse

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

In 2015, Herman Willemse wrote his 560-page memoirs about his prolific and illustrious open water swimming career – one of the most successful swimmers of the 20th century.

In Vrije slag (Freestyle in English), Willemse tells of his swims around the world and his post-retirement adventures in a sailboat with his wife Nel.

He started his career at the age of 24 at the 1959 Billy Butlin Cross Channel International Swim when he finished second in the English Channel race and finished in 12 hours 49 minutes [photo on left]. He retired at the age of 33 after traveling to races around the world and was later inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.

Willemse dominated the professional marathon swimming circuit between 1960 and 1964, winning the 30 km (19-mile) Traversée Internationale du lac St-Jean in Canada in 10 hours 7 minutes in 1961, in 9 hours 3 minutes in 1962, and in 8 hours 32 minutes in 1963, the 36 km Atlantic City Around-the-Island Marathon Swim in Atlantic City five times from 1960 to 1964, the 24 km Canadian National Exhibition race in 1961 and 1962, the 12.5 km Northumberland Strait race in 1964, the 37 km la Descente ou remontée du Saguenay in 6 hours 15 minutes in 1966, four 16 km Trois-Rivières Swim in 1961 to 1963 in Canada, the 58 km Maratón Acuática Internacional Santa Fe – Coronda in Argentina in 1963 with two third-place finishes in 1964 and 1966, the 45 km Mar del Plata race in Argentina, the 42 km race in the Suez Canal in Egypt, the 88 km Maratón Internacional Hernandarias – Paraná in Argentina, the 32 km Maratona del Golfo Capri-Napoli in Italy, the 24 Heures La Tuque with Judith van Berkel-de Nijs in 1965 and 1966, and 13 Dutch national championships.

Willemse is a dual inductee when he was inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 1963 and in the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2008 as an Honor Open Water Swimmer. He also served his fellow competitors when he helped establish in 1961 and was the first president of the World Professional Marathon Swimmers Federation.

The 86-year-old Willemse, nicknamed the Flying Dutchman, was interviewed by International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame chairperson Ned Denison on a previous edition of WOWSA Live.
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