Hannah Holscher ’16 became the youngest American to swim the Strait of Gibraltar when she made the 10-mile swim Aug. 6, with her father swimming alongside her.
She was glad for the company, especially given her father’s credentials. He set a world record for the longest relay when he and his team swam in shifts from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. He also swam the English Channel twice, also as part of a relay team.
Holscher at 16 already has her list of accomplishments, having won top team awards her freshman year as a member of both the water polo and swim teams at SI. This year, she will compete on the varsity level as well as continue her off-season work competing for SHAQ, a Junior Olympic team. Eventually, she hopes to become an architect and follow in both of her parents’ footsteps.
While browsing online swimming sites at the end of school in June, Holscher saw a story about a college student who had just made the crossing. “I saw her age and realized that I could be the youngest American to make the swim,” she said.
Back in 2009, that honor belonged to Stewart Goosens ’10, who completed the swim at 17 in 4 hours and 1 minute. Holscher took a little longer, making the swim in 4 hours and 49 minutes. (Back in 1989, a 12-year-old girl from India took the plunge, and she still holds the record as the youngest swimmer to successfully swim from Europe to Africa.)
Holscher began training by swimming in the Bay through the Dolphin Club, where her father is a member. On occasion, she would run into John Ottersberg, a member of SI’s campus ministry team and a member of the club who also swims regularly in the Bay.
At first, the cold bothered her more than the distance, even though she wasn’t used to the mile-long swims that she did daily. She eventually added weekly 6-mile swims to her training regimen.
Holscher didn’t want to swim only to place her name in the record books; she wrote to family friends to ask them to donate to Open Arms Day Care and to a group to which her father belongs: Night Train Swimmers, which offers swim lessons to at-risk youth in Marin. In all, she raised over $4,000 for these two non-profits.
Holscher flew with her parents and younger sister to Spain and landed Aug. 4 after coordinating with the Gibraltar Strait Swimming Association, which follows swimmers by boat to ensure that they didn’t cross paths with any large ships and to be close by if needed.
On Aug. 6, Holscher and her father stepped into the Mediterranean while her mother and sister hopped into the support boat. During the swim, Holscher ate meals every half hour for energy and, once, had some unexpected visitors when a pod of dolphins swam under her and leapt up to the side. “That was just a little frightening.”
Whenever she paused to eat or to rest, those on the support boat shouted words of encouragement and held up signs to cheer her on.
Once in Morocco, she stood on a submerged rock to mark the end of her journey. Back in the boat, it didn’t take her long to fall fast asleep and rest before a celebratory dinner that night.
During the next few days, she earned another accomplishment: learning how to kite-board in the waters off Tarifa, Spain.
Now that she has tried long-distance open-water swimming, she hopes to do more. “There are seven ocean swims that people try to check off their list,” she said. “I’m looking at them right now and trying to decide what my next big swim will be.”