Fresh from completing the inaugural crossing of the Oresund Strait, between Denmark and Sweden, Mariel Hawley is used to firsts. The first Mexican woman to complete the Triple Crown and Oceans Seven; the first person to swim a 22km route at Acapulco now known as El Reto; and the first Latin American woman to swim the North Channel between Scotland and Ireland. Here, she talks about her life in open water swimming, which she took up seriously after becoming a mother.
Swimming was a big part of my life as a child and is a very important part of my adult life. I learned to swim when I was three or four years old. I did my first open water swim when I was 9 years old, when I was spending holidays with my grandparents in Acapulco. Every morning we walked along the beach, but one day I decided I was tired of walking and was going to return by swimming. This was a surprise for my grandfather. He told me that I was crazy but I explained to him that I could do it and I swam back, maybe it was only 500 meters but it was beautiful and I enjoyed very much. That day, I discovered the magic of swimming in the ocean. As I grew older, I participated in swimming meets in the pool and would only swim in the ocean when visiting the beach.
I started getting serious about open water swimming when I became a mother, 23 years ago. After my son Lalo and my daughter Andrea were born, only a year and a half apart, I started training for swimming again for two reasons: firstly, I wanted to drop some weight; but the second and most important reason was that swimming gave me the opportunity to spend sometime by myself and enjoying what I loved so much. During those days, we spent long periods of time in Acapulco and I began swimming in the ocean everyday. In 2001, I enrolled in an open water swim of 5k. I enjoyed it very much but the swim was over too quickly. I wanted to swim longer distances, so I began creating new swims…
The next year, I swam 11k and in 2003 I opened a new swimming route in Acapulco of 22 kms that today is a very popular swim called El Reto 22km (the challenge). Since then, my passion has been swimming in the ocean. In 2006, I was part of a six person relay that did a 4-way crossing of the English Channel and our time set a Guinness Record which we still hold. After that relay I decided I wanted to swim the Channel by myself.
Swimming the Channel was one of three swims that made me the first Mexican woman to complete the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming. I swam around Manhattan Island, a course of nearly 46 kms that I accomplished in 8 hours and 8 minutes, on June 6th, 2009. I returned to the English Channel, known as the “Everest” for swimmers, and swam it in 14 hours and 33 minutes on August 12th, 2011. Finally, swimming the Catalina Channel between Catalina Island and California’s Long Beach took me 11 hours and 27 minutes on August 25th, 2012. Back then, the Triple Crown was a challenge that very few people had achieved. It isn’t that long ago, and even so, when I accomplished the three swims, I was the 61th person in the world to do it. By the end of 2021, more than 200 swimmers had completed it.
After completing the Triple Crown I was sure of one thing: I loved swimming and I wanted to keep going. Nevertheless my husband Eduardo got sick in 2014 and I didn’t have time or energy to swim any more. Just as every day the sun rises and sets, so does the life of each person. Life and death are beyond our control and the day came when Eduardo closed his eyes to finally rest… His death did not take us by surprise, but it did cause us immense pain. Not only did we lose the battle; we lost the war. My children and I were desolate, sad, angry, not knowing what to do, literally drowning in life … I spent several days immersed in my pain that would not let me be, without sensing the passage of time. At one point, Lalo came to me and said: “Mom, I want to do the Gibraltar swim, and I am going to do it in Dad’s memory”.
I swam Gibraltar July 1, 2015 with Lalo, but as the crossing is oe of the Oceans Sevens swims, it was also a starting point for me deciding to take on that challenge. After Gibraltar, I swam Molokai July 10, 2017, the Tsugaru, first attempt but could not finish because of a storm in 2016 and then in July 1, 2018 I did it and established a Guinness Record for the Fastest female crossing, North Channel in August 20, 2018, first Latin American Female and the Cook Strait, in March 30 2019 becoming the 15th person in the world to accomplish the Oceans Seven.
At the end of 2021, I received an unusual message from a man named Dennis inviting me to do a new swim in the Oresund Strait. When I spoke with Dennis on the phone, and before I could tell him: “No thanks”, he shared his vision for a new association to organise marathon swims across this magical body of water. He explained the historical significance, from Viking crossings to the famous Kronborg castle, immortalized as Elsinore in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
I couldn’t resist, and I told him yes. I once again began my long distance training, cold water exposure, 6-hour training swims in La Jolla, California, Las Estacas, La Esmeralda pool. And finally, this August, I flew to Denmark. The Viking Swim was a wonderful adventure, in a spectacular location, between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea and between Denmark and Sweden. On August 9 at 4:00 AM Denmark time I started swimming at Bellevue Beach, Denmark and after 22 kms and 8:59 hours of swimming I finished the first historical, recorded swim of the Oresund Strait, in Lundakrabukten, Sweden . It’s a beautiful swim that I recommend to all swimmers around the world.
Swimming is not part of Mexican education system. But the last 30-20 years it has become very popular and adults are learning to swim as well as children. Being able to swim opens doors and is considered aspirational. In Mexico there are so many beautiful beaches and places to swim. I inaugurated three new swims between 2019 and last year. First, the Aquarium Swim, in Baja California, which is 32kms from San José del Cabo to Cabo San Lucas, which has become very popular and in a spectacular place. Second, the swim across Bahía de Banderas-Corazón de Mar, a 34km swim near Puerto Vallarta. Lastly, the Marietas Swim, from Marietas Island to Mainland Nayarit, which is 12kms.
All my swims have had a cause, and I will keep swimming and fundraising to support non profit organisations. I think of my swims less as sport events and more as a personal challenge and a way to help many people in my country. Swimming in the ocean has been a privilege for me and being in the oceans makes me much more conscious about this planet. I feel more sea and less Mariel when I swim in the ocean.