by WYNNE LOVE | photos by Zeena Gregg Photography

When you go for a swim, how long can you last?  An hour?  Two?  How about 15?  That’s how long Tom Hecker spent in the icy waters of the Atlantic while he swam the 21 miles across the English Channel in 2005.  Since then, he’s completed five other open water swims, including crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, Lake Tahoe, and the Cook Strait in New Zealand.

A sales manager for a biotech firm by day, 60-year-old Hecker maintains a training schedule that would be grueling for a 20-year-old:  90 minutes of swimming or weights before work and a 6-12 mile open water swim on the weekend.  “The training over six to nine months is what makes it exciting to do the big swims,” said Hecker.

Hecker shares his know-how with members of the La Jolla Cove Swim Club, the UCSD Masters swim program, and the Triathlon Club of San Diego.  By crossing the English Channel, circumnavigating Manhattan Island, and swimming the Catalina Channel, he earned the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming, and his completion of the English Channel and Cook Strait swims earned him membership in the Half Century Club.

Amazingly, it’s not the swimming Hecker finds most challenging.  Completing swims of this distance in such diverse locations requires thousands of dollars in travel and support.  Luckily, his crew is extremely supportive – it’s usually his wife, Carol.  When the going gets rough, her presence in the water keeps him going.  “It was invaluable for me to have her on the swims,” said Hecker.  “Many times when I had negative thoughts during the swim I would think of her and how boring it must be for her in the boat – negative thoughts went away.”
Hecker is in good hands.  His wife is a nurse practitioner and his two daughters both work in the medical field as well.  Plus, he has a fabulous group of fellow swimmers.  “I got caught up in the right crowd,” said Hecker.