Spiritual, physical reasons keep marathon swimmer going at 62

Cambrian crosses an 18-mile wide African strait

ktanner@thetribunenews.comJuly 11, 2013 

Imagine swimming against a swift, turbulent ocean current for more than 11 hours to become the first person to swim across the 18 miles that separate the Cape Verde islands of Maio and Santiago, off the Western coast of Africa.

David Yudovin of Cambria — at 62, one of the world’s most prolific channel adventurers — did just that on June 30.

Among Yudovin’s three dozen channel swims since 1976, at least 16 were “firsts.” He is an honor swimmer in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame and a candidate for inclusion in the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

Among his swimming accomplishments are conquering the English Channel, battling through deadly whirlpools, adapting to high waves, cold water/hot water and a crossing in Java in which jellyfish stung him thousands of times. His body stayed toxic for more than a year because of all the accumulated venom.

Last year, he finished two other “first” crossings in the Cape Verde archipelago.

And he’s not done yet. In October and November he plans to attack another rugged stretch of open water in Indonesia, where he’s already in the record books for first-across swims.

Yudovin also survived leukemia and a heart attack, and says he beat the medical challenges by focusing beyond his treatments to his swimming goals.

Preparing for his latest channel conquest took “a solid year of total focus and lots and lots of work” before that, including 56 years of demanding daily workouts and long swims, Yudovin told The Tribune in an email from Lisbon, Portugal.

In the Maio-to-Santiago swim, he also learned that he has a previously unidentified helper: “This was a proving ground for ingrained muscle memory,” he said, acknowledging that theory isn’t in any text book, but is instead what he considers “a cutting-edge discovery” based on his more than 35 years in the ultra-marathon sport.

“The amazing thing is that a year of one-to-four-hour workouts daily would not have been sufficient 20 years ago” to prepare him for such a demanding swim as the Cape Verde crossing. “I was amazed at how strong I was at 62 years and (after) 11-plus hours of swimming.”

He described the swim as being “very, very challenging,” under light winds.

Once again, his wife, Beth Yudovin, was his coach/captain, and Altino Goulart from the Azores was boat captain. 

They began his Cape Verde training more than a month before the swim, a deliberately long regime. The record-setting swimmer had to adjust to the temperature of the water and air there, which is much warmer than in California, and he wanted to rehearse his reactions to “very rough conditions, similar to the actual channel swim I’d be doing. The currents are soooo strong!”

Yudovin is often asked why he puts himself through such life-risking challenges at an age when many of his peers expect to slow down.

His answer: It keeps him alive, both in physical health and motivation. His grueling swim schedule of 3 to 10 miles a day “has taught me all the skills for success through intermediate goal setting to achieving ultra goals and learning to deal with success — which is much more difficult than dealing with failure … In failure, it is easy to remain on the same track. In success, a door opens to a new level” that’s even more challenging than the one before.

 “When I swim, it puts me in a ‘spiritual’ level. I am more in touch with myself. I am in my natural element, and I have had the rewards of affecting other people in a positive way,” through his swimming, volunteering and the inspirational presentations he gives.

For Yudovin, being an inspiration to others, especially senior citizens, is “very, very much” on his mind as he trains and swims. “It is a big component of my motivation.”

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