You may not remember Florence Chadwick as much time has passed since she accomplished an extraordinary athletic feat. She swam the English Channel on August 8, 1950, at age 32 and broke the record of her swimming idol Gertrude Ederle by more than an hour. She swam from France to England in 13 hours and 20 minutes.
One year later, Chadwick crossed the English Channel again, from England to France this time, in 16 hours and 22 minutes, thus making her the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions, and setting a record for the England-France journey. She ultimately swam the channel four times.
In a May 1981 News 8 interview, she told Janet Zappala that her first race was in her hometown of San Diego when she was 6 years old. At age 10 she became the youngest person to swim across the mouth of San Diego Bay. Starting at age 11 she competed in rough water swims, winning an annual 2.5-mile race in the ocean off La Jolla 10 times in 18 years.
She had a long list of accomplishments.
In 1962, Chadwick was inducted by the San Diego Hall of Champions into its Breitbard Hall of Fame. In 1970 she was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
Her family owned a restaurant, Chadwick’s on Market Street downtown. She attended Point Loma High School and San Diego State College. She worked as a credit counselor and a stockbroker. She died of leukemia in San Diego in 1995; her ashes were scattered into the ocean off Point Loma.
One of San Diego’s finest athletes and a truly remarkable pioneering woman, Florence Chadwick.