"An invincible determination can accomplish almost anything and in this lies the great distinction between great men and little men."
Florence Chadwick loved to swim. She was born in San Diego, California on November 9, 1918. She grew up on the beach and began competing as a swimmer at the age of six. After four years of defeats, her uncle entered her in a contest at the age of ten in a two and one half mile "rough water" night swim where she came in fourth.
One year later at age eleven Chadwick won first place in a six-mile race across the choppy waters of the San Diego Bay Channel in her home town. For the next 19 years she continued as a competitive swimmer. When she was 13 she came in second at the U.S. national championships. She was the first woman to swim across the English Channel...both ways. She even swam across the Straits of Gibraltar.
In 1962, after a career of swimming accomplishments, Chadwick was inducted by the San Diego Hall of Champions into the Breitbard Hall of Fame.
Chadwick was 34 years old on July 4, 1952, when she attempted to become the first woman to swim the 21 miles across the Catalina Channel from Catalina Island to Palos Verde on the California coast.
The weather that day was challenging because the ocean was ice-cold, and the fog was so thick she could barely see the support boats that followed her. The tides and current were against her. And, to make matters worse, sharks were in the area. But at daybreak she decided to go forward anyway, expecting the fog to lift in time.
Hour after hour she swam. The fog never lifted. Her mother and trainer followed her in one of the support boats encouraging her to keep going. While Americans watched on television other members of her support crew fired rifles at the sharks to drive them away. She kept going and going. At about the 15 hour point she began to doubt her ability to finish the swim. She told her mother she didn't think she could make it.
Unfortunately, at 15 hours and 55 minutes she had to stop and with huge disappointment she asked her support crew to take her out of the water. Because of the fog, she could not see the coastline so she had no idea where she was. She soon found out, however, that she was less than a mile from the coast. She could have certainly reached it if she had just stayed in the water a few minutes longer.
Later she told a reporter, "Look, I'm not excusing myself, but if I could have seen land I know I could have made it." The fog had made her unable to see her goal and it felt to her like she was getting nowhere. Two months later she tried again. And, though the fog was just as dense, this time she kept going. Her time was 13 hours and 47 minutes breaking a 27-year-old record by more than two hours and becoming the first woman ever to complete the swim.
I love that story because it reminds me how close any of us can be to success but, without keeping our eyes on the goal, we stop short. We really can be so near and yet so far. As Langston Hughes declared, "I have discovered in life that there are ways of getting almost anywhere you want to go, if you really want to go."
Calvin Coolidge's words also speak to all of us:
Nothing in the world takes the place of perseverance. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated failures. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
Think about it.
Dr. Don Meyer is President of
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA
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