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Simon at home in water

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KENNETH M. VELOSKEY
August 17, 2010
— Samantha Simon of Janesville says she can’t run a lick.

“I did a biathlon once, and it was terrible,” Simon said. “I can’t run, and I can’t bike—nothing on land.’’


When it comes to testing Simon’s athletic prowess, point her toward a big body of water, stand back and let the woman do her thing.


Even though Simon admits to being afraid of fish, the Janesville Craig High School graduate turned her swim skills and tenacity loose and completed open-water marathon swimming’s triple crown in the last 12 months.


The 20-year-old Simon, a distance swimmer for St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minn., successfully swam more than 70 miles and took uncountable strokes to become one of 12 women among an exclusive group of 37 distance swimmers to complete the English Channel, the Manhattan Island Marathon and the Catalina Channel.


Simon successfully crossed 21 miles of the unpredictable English Channel last August, swam 28.5 miles in the turbid waters of the Hudson, Harlem and East rivers to circumnavigate Manhattan Island in June, and watched for sharks while swimming 21 miles across California’s Catalina Channel this month.


Simon took 13-plus hours to swim the English Channel, considerably more than the eight hours she took to swim around Manhattan and the nine-plus hours she was in the water between Catalina Island and Long Beach, Calif.


To put the accomplishment into perspective, more people have climbed Mount Everest than have swum the English Channel.


As for material gain from her successes, Simon won’t get rich, make the cover of a sports magazine or shake hands with the President in the Rose Garden.


“I have a medal from Manhattan and a map (of the English Channel) on a wall in my apartment in Minneapolis and nothing from Catalina,’’ Simon said.


The lure of fame and fortune did not fuel Simon. Tenacity did.


“I’m stubborn as hell,” Simon said.


Simon established her mettle in the Tampa Bay marathon, her first marathon swim in April 2008.


Just 18 years old and among savvy distance swimmers twice her age, the rookie Simon stood up to the veterans and finished the 24-mile swim in just under nine hours for a surprising fourth-place finish.


Simon checked off three more distance swims before swimming the English Channel in August 2009.


“The water temperature was 64 (degrees),” Simon said. “My body temperature dipped a little bit.’’


The then-19-year-old was swallowed by 25-foot swells and blown off course after a storm turned the 21-mile journey into a 26-mile battle.


Despite getting shoved under her guide boat and out of sight of her crew—mother Kelly and father Paul—Simon kept going.


While her mom and dad panicked, Sam saw the bright side.


“I liked being near my parents because they make me happier,” Simon said. “So that’s when they were closest to me, so I liked that.’’


In New York City in June, Simon was one of 25 solo swimmers selected for the Manhattan race. She finished third among six women in the Manhattan race.


Simon said swimming in the three rivers surrounding Manhattan wasn’t as nasty as most people think.


“The water looks kind of gross in some spots,” Simon said. “But once you were in it, it didn’t seem so much different. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.’’


After settling into the water, Simon enjoyed Manhattan from a different perspective, including the Statue of Liberty.


“It was pretty cool,” Simon said. “It was a new angle to see it.’’


Simon has touched all three bases, but she is not heading for home. She plans to swim more marathons. Making a double crossing of the English Channel is another possibility.


Whatever her choice, Simon will stand up and be counted.


That’s what happens when you’re stubborn as hell.



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