August the 24th is the day in 1875 that Captain Matthew Webb successfully swam the English Channel, landing at Calais on his second attempt in under 22 hours. It’s the date that the sport of Channel and Marathon Swimming unofficially claims as its birth day, (disregarding previous unsuccessful attempts by Webb and others).
So following a suggestion by US marathon swimmer Leonard Jansen on the Marathon Swimmers Forum in May 2015, the non-profit voluntary and free swimming organisation that wrote the (only) Global Rules of Marathon Swimming, the organisation that runs the only peer- nominated and selected Marathon Swimming Awards, the Marathon Swimmers Federation announces today, August the 24th, as the first official World Marathon Swimming Day.
Because the Marathon Swimmers Federation is merely an expression of the worldwide community of marathon swimmers. We are all in this together.
An alternative day could the first day that someone conceived both of the desire, and the plan, but we don’t as a species generally celebrate conception or ideas. We don’t think of the day Einstein had the idea for Special Relativity, but when it was published. We don’t think of the year Darwin visited the Galapagos but when Origin of Species was published. We don’t (so much) think of the day that JF Kennedy announced the Moon Project, as the day that Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon.
Marathon swimming isn’t so big a deal as walking on the Moon, explaining how we came about or leaving our home planet.
But for most of us who can never dream so large, a Channel swim may be one of the most momentous and deliberately chosen events in our lives and stepping off one shore with the dream and aim of swimming to a distant further shore is something that is, in the sense of the word so often lost, extra ordinary.
Why don’t we celebrate one hundred and forty years of tens of thousands of successful and unsuccessful marathon swimmers and swims around the world?
I can’t think why not. I don’t know how people got together to announce International Day of the Rabbit or Cow Appreciation Day, or World Forum International Mud Day or Hallmark Day. Even Stars Wars has a day and that’s only based on a pun.
But I know in the absence of a governing or even umbrella organisation or association, that August 24th is the best day to celebrate the achievements, tragedies and heroics of our sport and I know that you will agree with me.
So we’re just doing this. August the 24th is our Day.
It’s about all of us. The rules have changed. We don’t have to wait a generation for someone to ask permission of someone else to make a decision that we may celebrate eventually. We’ve waited one hundred and forty years. So let’s celebrate today. Like going for an impromptu swim. Jump in.
There’s no greeting card, no sponsorship, no t-shirt, no-one pulling strokes or strings. There’s just us. Just all us swimmers, successful and unsuccessful, present and lost.
I am an average swimmer. I am an open water swimmer. I am a marathon swimmer and I am so proud to be a Channel Swimmer even if I never swim another channel. I celebrate the ideals of Channel and Marathon swimming. I celebrate and enjoy the international community of marathon swimmers, I celebrate you. So I celebrate today. I celebrate the amazing three-way English Channel swimmers and furthest distances and the slowest and fastest one-ways and the local 10k swimmers and the professionals and amateurs and in most ways see little difference between them all.
I mourn and honour our losses and revel in our successes. I anticipate the astonishing feats that the future will bring us, and treasure the stories and memories of those passed, and hold all close to my heart. I hold my head up to have any part of this sport or any connection to so many of you.
So I call on you, all you Channel and Marathon swimmers and Aspirants, celebrate today, whatever of the day is left to you, as the first World Marathon Swimming Day. Celebrate your hopes, and your Aspirations. Celebrate the successes and the not succesfuls. Celebrate the dreams and the hopes and the swims and the swimmers. Today is my day. Today is your day. Make it all our day.
Because from now on, from this day forward for the rest of my life, I will continue to celebrate and revere Captain Matthew Webb as I have done previously, but I will also celebrate August the 24th and all of you and I promise you this, tonight I will raise a glass in honour of you all, and maybe you will too, and maybe next year, maybe, more will join us.