Mexican Open Water Swimmers Break Women’s World Record Crossing the Tsugaru Channel

Photo Courtesy: Mariel Hawley

By Daniela Navarrete, Swimming World College Intern.

Regular competitive swimmers fall into one of two camps: the ones who refuse to swim in the ocean, and the ones who love it. Throughout open water swimming history, several individuals have accomplished what many would think impossible – just for the love of the sport. Regardless of their age, the length of the swim, or the environmental conditions, these swimmers have accomplished some amazing feats.

This list of “crazy” swimmers includes American Gertrude Ederle, who in 1926 became the first woman ever to swim across the English Channel, which connects England with France in a distance of 33km (20 miles). In addition, six men in their eighties broke a record in 2015 by being the oldest to swim across the Catalina Channel, a 34km (21-mile) swim from Catalina Island to San Pedro, Calif.

At the beginning of July, two more athletes were added to this list: Mexican open water swimmers Nora Toledano and Mariel Hawley, who broke the women’s world record crossing the Tsugaru Channel.


Photo Courtesy: Nora Toledano


The Tsugaru Channel is a 30-km(19.5-mile) swim between the main Japanese island of Honshu and Hokkaido island in the northern area of the country; it connects the Japanese Sea with the Pacific Ocean.

Most of the year, water temperatures are between 10°C (50°F) and 15°C (59°F), but during the summer months of July and August, it increases a bit and can over 16°C (61°F). According to Hawley, the water conditions were just as they generally are: “We started swimming at 1 a.m., when the water temperature was between 15°C and 16°C . Fortunately, the climate was on our side almost the whole trip and we even found ourselves on a positive water current for a while.”

The Swimmers


Photo Courtesy: Nora Toledano

Toledano and Hawley are two of the most skilled marathon swimmers, not only in Mexico and Latin America but also the world. Toledano has been in the sport for over 30 years, starting with regular competitive swimming as a child and moving on to open water during her early teens.

One of her most outstanding achievements is being the only Mexican, the first Latin American woman, and the sixth person in the world to swim a two-way route across the English Channel – from England to France and back to England continuously. This swim, taking place in 1994, spanned 23 hours and 38 minutes without rest. Furthermore, she has swum it 11 times: five as individual swims and six as relay swims.

Although Toledano has been focused on open water more than regular swimming throughout her career, Toledano has triumphed at the pool as well. At the 2004 FINA Masters World Championships in Italy, she won a bronze medal in the 200m fly and in the 10km event. Then in 2010 at Worlds held in Sweden, she won a bronze in the 400m IM and again in the 200m fly. In addition, she has been the only Mexican inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.


Photo Courtesy: Mariel Hawley

Hawley, on the other hand, has been the first Mexican to complete what is best known in open water as the Triple Crown. This includes the completion of three of the main open water swims: the 46km (28.5-mile) trip around the Island of Manhattan; the 33km (20-mile) swim on the English Channel; and the 34km (21-mile) swim on the Catalina Channel, connecting the Catalina Island to the Southern California mainland in Los Angeles. She was the first Mexican woman to accomplish this feat. Hawley concluded each journey in 2009, 2011 and 2012, respectively.

Moreover, in 2007, Hawley got a Guinness World Record by swimming a four-way race through the English Channel as part of a relay. Hawley, like Toledano, did not ignore the pool completely during this time – she has been a National Master’s Champion from 2002 to 2015.


Photo Courtesy: Mariel Hawley

World Record-Holders

It’s not every day that open water world records are broken. On July 1, this Mexican duet stopped the clock in six hours and 20 minutes, writing their names in the books as the second fastest in the world just behind American master open water swimmer Steven Munatones. His time comes from 1990, where he finished in six hours and eleven minutes. The old women’s world record of eight hours and fifty-five minutes belonged to American marathon swimmer Michelle Macy in 2012.

This was Toledano’s first attempt and Hawley’s second. Hawley shared details with Swimming World about her unsuccessful first experience two years ago:

In 2016, I attempted to swim the Tsugaru Channel, but the weather and water conditions were not safe at all as it was almost like a storm. Years earlier, I went through tough personal storms due to my dad’s and husband’s death, so the storm I was going through in the ocean was adding up with the past ones. While swimming, I was courageously crying because I realized the conditions of the day were not allowing me to swim forward easily. In that first attempt, Nora Toledano was on the guiding boat as my coach. Suddenly, when I was about to reach five hours of continuous swimming, she told me to stop and get out of the water. Right before I went into the boat, I realized that when I took my head out of the water to breathe, I could see the clouds and the high tide, but when I had my head underwater, the ocean seemed to be at peace. I told myself that next time I would swim through the Tsugaru, I wanted to have my heart and mind at peace, just like the ocean. I felt kind of disappointed with my performance, yet promise myself I was going to accomplish that swim someday in my life.

For Hawley, this was not just another marathon swim. Finishing the swim through the Tsugaru Channel meant closure: “I wanted to swim fast and strong in a beautiful day; I am glad it happened that way. Plus, swimming with someone by your side is always a grateful experience.”

Toledano and Hawley got a special recognition from the Mexican embassy in Japan.


Photo Courtesy: Mariel Hawley

Future Plans

Both swimmers have a life outside of the water. Apart from being crazy marathon swimmers, they travel as motivational speakers, coach swimming and take care of their families. Yet, they still have some future goals in mind.


Photo Courtesy: Mariel Hawley

Their main goal is to accomplish the Oceans Sevens, which include the North Channel, the Cook Strait, the Molokaʻi Channel, English Channel, the Catalina Channel, the Tsugaru Channel, and the Strait of Gibraltar. Hawley has swum five of them, missing only two bodies of water: the North Channel (34km/21miles) between Ireland and Scotland, which she will attempt at the end of August, and the Cook Strait (26km/16miles), which she will swim next year.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.


  1. avatar

    So they swam side by side, not changing positions or drafting, and then finished basically simultaneously to share the record? Amazing! They took so much time off the women’s record. Inspirational feat.