Out Front, Fall 1998
"I know physically I can swim the distance. I don't take anything for the pain, I'm just so used to it," says 23-year-old Australian open-water swimmer Susie Maroney. "I certainly hope I'm not crazy," she adds. You decide: In 1996, she swam 95 miles between Cuban and U.S. waters in 38 hours. For 21 of those hours, she navigated 12- to 15-foot seas with two fractured wrists. Not alarmed by the level of discomfort she was feeling, Maroney just kept on going — severely dehydrated, riddled with welts from jellyfish stings, wrists grotesquely swollen — shedding 20 pounds along the way. She finally hit the wall 10 miles short of land. Nonetheless, the next year she came back for more, this time completing the route in 24.5 hours.
Reimmersing herself in that old familiar agony last May, Maroney attempted the longest nonstop open-water swim ever: 129 miles across the Yucatžn Channel from Isla Mujeres, Mexico, to Las Tombas, Cuba. Swimming in a cage for protection from tiger and hammerhead sharks, she endured the usual barrage: the jellyfish, the bouts of seasickness (swim-tread-vomit-swim), and the nighttime hallucinations (mainly monkeys dancing in the shadows, though in a race last year, Maroney got an underwater visit from Santa). With such entertaining interruptions in the tedium, Maroney made it to Cuba, breaking the world record and earning an invitation to dinner with Fidel Castro in the process.
Her next big venture is scheduled for 1999: a 145-mile swim from Key West to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale. And though it may sound easy in comparison to the international crossings, this route through the jagged reefs, killer currents, and shark-infested waters of the Keys is likely to be her most masochistic swim yet. Is Maroney up to the task? "The real challenge," she answers cheerfully, conveniently forgetting lessons already learned, "is the mental endurance. How long will I be able to push?