The world of open water swimming is blessed with incredibly courageous and humble individuals who have touched the hearts of many: the cold-water adventurer Lynne Cox, the Olympic champion and cancer survivor Maarten van der Weijden and the shining example of guts and perseverance Natalie du Toit.
These are true modern-day heroes in swimsuits.
Another swimmer, Marcos Diaz from the Dominican Republic, is also swimming his way around the world as he conquers its various waterways as well as conquering hearts.
In a country where baseball is the most popular sport, Marcos has made open water swimming another sport on everyone's radar. Marcos has become a phenomenon by excelling in a sport unknown to most of his countrymen through his charismatic personality, his passion for the water and his track record of successful races and solo swims.
Among Marcos' exploits, he has set a two-way crossing in the Strait of Gibraltar in 2005, crossed the English Channel in 2004, won India's 81K Bhagirathi River Swim, finished 6th in Argentina's 88K Hernandaria-Parana race on the 2007 FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix circuit, did a 22-hour double circumnavigation around Manhattan Island (see photos above).
His 2 Xs Manhattan Swim was televised live in the Dominican Republic and set local TV ratings records in addition to attracting unprecedented throngs of fans in New York where Dominicans mobbed him at the finish. Morty Berger, founder of the NYC Swim, said, "It was unbelievable. It was unlike anything we have seen here. The fans and the media were all over the place."
Soon after Marcos' Manhattan Swim, the President of the Dominican Republic awarded him his country's highest honor: the Medal of Honor and Merit (Orden Mérito Duarte, Sánchez y Mella Santo Domingo.
He was also named a Goodwill Ambassador and was selected as Man of the Year by popular vote.
Incredibly, he even won the Most Admired Athlete award over established Major League Baseball All-Stars such as Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Albert Pujols, Pedro Martinez and Sammy Sosa. His countrymen obviously highly respect his work both in the water and out, including his charitable work on behalf of less fortunate children through the charitable Foundation Marcos Diaz (Fundación Marcos Diaz).
"What I love the most about open water swimming is being able to meet so many great people, some of which have become wonderful friends. Swimming in a new place, to compete, or go for an ultra distance solo swim is really exiting and true adventure, but the people I have been able to meet practicing this sport is the very best part of it," said Marcos with the utmost in humility.
It is not often that a swimmer moves a country and helps make open water swimming well-known; Marcos has achieved this.
This year, Marcos started out his season at the Nike Swim Miami 10K, then won his third Swim Around Key West, his fourth 26K International Crossing of the Toroneos Gulf in Greece, swam in the Faros Marathon Swim in Stari Grad, Croatia, took first in the 16K Dominican Open Water Marathon National Championships and finished his season with a victor in the 15K Clean Half Marathon Swim in Hong Kong.
Despite Marcos' previous successes, 2010 may prove to be his biggest yet.
He will soon announce a series of solo crossings around the world that will be endorsed by the United Nations with the goal of promoting open water swimming around the world in a very creative manner with a global message from the United Nations.
We are anxious to cover Marcos' joint project with the United Nations as one of open water swimming's greatest ambassadors.
Copyright © 2009 by World Open Water Swimming Association