Members of San Francisco's Dolphin Swimming and Boating Club are celebrating after a six-person team became the oldest American relay team to swim the English Channel last week.
“We’re happy, proud and a little tired,” team captain Duke Dahlin said.
Dahlin, a San Francisco resident who, at 75, is the team's oldest member, led off the relay from Shakespeare Beach near Dover, England, at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday.
One of just two members who had previously swum the channel, he had crossed solo back in 2003 with a time of 14 hours, 37 minutes. Dahlin passed up another solo attempt last year in the wake of cardiac surgery and the implantation of an arterial stent.
In last week's relay, team members swam one-hour legs in a rotation that continued for 15 hours and 10 minutes over a 21-mile course that ended at Calais, France. One team member was in the water while the others and caught naps or snacked in a nearby boat. The swimmers were only allowed gear consisting of swimsuits, goggles and uninsulated bathing caps.
“The pilgrimage to Dover and the crossing of the Channel are in the Dolphin Club’s DNA,” Dolphin Club President Diane Walton said in a statement. “This group of over-70 swimmers inspires us all.”
Team members included Joni Beemsterboer, 74, of San Francisco, who was a member of the first American women's relay that swam the channel in 10 hours and 48 minutes in 1989, as well as Marin County resident Thomas Neill, 70, who crossed the 21-mile Catalina Channel in 12 hours and 59 minutes in 2021 before swimming the length of Lake Tahoe last year in 17 hours and 33 minutes.
Also participating was Sunny McKee, 74, who began competing in Ironman triathlons when she turned 60 and has since completed seven of the grueling Ironman races. John Hornor, 73, is a retired building contractor who began his Channel training by giving up alcohol and joining a master's swim team. Julian Sapirstein, 73, is a lawyer who serves as San Francisco city and county's mental health commissioner. All three team members live in the city.
Several other accomplished athletes were part of the team, which boasts a cumulative age of 439 years. Last September, a British team with a combined age of 449 completed a channel swim but was disqualified due to what was ruled a mistimed exchange.
George Kelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org