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Marathon Swimming: The Sport of the Soul, a Book Review

Marathon Swimming The Sport of the Soul Inspiring Stores of Promise Faith and Grit

Paul Andrew Asmuth, seven-time World Record Holder and Swimming Hall of Fame Inductee, has written a bold account of his "part time summer job" - professionally swimming marathons - following a life path he had not anticipated.

According to the International Swimming Hall of Fame, Paul Asmuth "…ascended onto the world scene in the 1980's becoming the most dominant racer on the professional circuit and one of the world's greatest professional marathon swimmers." His list of titles is more than impressive:

  • Seven World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation titles: 1980-1985, 1988
  • Most wins La Traversee Internationale Du Lac Memphremagog: Six crossings
  • First around Manhattan Island: Under seven hours
  • Atlantic City Press names Asmuth Athlete of The Decade (1990)
  • Competed in 59 International Marathon Swimming Races.

A record like that is something to be proud of in any sport, but these accomplishments in Marathon Swimming is nothing short of astounding. They validate the amazing stamina and training that is necessary to even attempt these feats of swimming dangerous, sometimes shockingly cold lakes, rivers and oceans.

In Marathon Swimming, The Sport Of The Soul, Paul brings the reader along for the ride, or should I say, swim, through all sorts of weather, hours on end, day and night, stroke, stroke, breathe, repeat. Paul's stories illustrate just how much grit and determination went into earning those titles. Marathon Swimming is an Extreme Sport.

Paul entitled his book, The Sport Of The Soul because "…unlike any other sport, marathon swimming diminishes our senses to a point of uselessness. All five of them: to hear, feel, taste, smell and see are stripped away through constant water movement against the skin…During a race I move deeply into my soul, the very essence of who I am, who God made me to be."

The first race you will read about is a grueling 21-mile swim across Lac St. Jean, Quebec, Canada. The difficulty of this first challenge sets the tone for the rest of the book: utter sympathy for the marathon swimmer.

Why marathon swimming? Why would someone attempt these swims at one time considered impossible? Even Paul admits that "training in cold water is no fun." The answer could be that facing and ultimately conquering the fears and challenges that arise during such an endeavor, help in dealing with the stresses of life in general. The exhilaration of personal accomplishment, along with the concept of calling on a higher power, is worth any accompanying pain.

The top of each page gives the year each story occurred, making it easy to relate to the chronology as Paul participates in "the circuit" of marathon swimmers over decades, returning annually to the same locations.

He felt compelled to add an English Crossing to his list of accomplishments after a few encounters at cocktail parties. Upon discovering his "hobby" Paul was inevitably asked the question: "Had he swum the English Channel?" When he answered no, regardless of all the other World Records he held, he was dismissed with condescension and comments that he was not "a real marathon swimmer". In his first attempt, despite handicaps, he set a new Men's World Record of 8 hours and 12 minutes. He can now hold his head up high at any social gathering. Paul Asmuth is a real marathon swimmer.

As a highlight of the book, completing a circuit so to speak, Paul trained once again to face Lac St. Jean for the 50th Anniversary of La Traversee Internationale. The year was 2004 and Paul was 47 years young. His last race had been at that venue in 1992 and he had not done any cold-water swims of that distance since that time. Could he do it? Was he crazy? Several other past champions also got back into shape to celebrate the Golden Anniversary of the event. They had become “les anciens” (the ancients). Paul said reality stings sometimes.

Be introduced to the many Coaches who helped Paul along the way, and the individual lessons they each imparted. Get to know his family and the many friends and fans who followed Paul’s career, helping him to reach his goals. Learn the difference between a competent Skipper and others who were not as skilled or professional, leaving Paul in precarious, dangerous situations.

Get a feel for the water and follow Paul as he fights hypothermia, is pummeled by waves, pushed by currents and stung by jellyfish. Be inspired by a true champion, as the elements test his resolve and strengthen his faith. The Sport Of The Soul is a wonderful, well-written, inspiring read. Stroke, stroke breathe.

Written by Linda Hepworth, competitive swimmer, Update editor, and author of The Water Becons.

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