Ten years ago, when Ted Erikson, 37, set a record by swimming the English Channel twice (in one dunk) in 30 hours and three minutes, he made a vow that he’d have his 11-year-old son, Jon, swimming the channel by the time he was 13. Jon blew it, but just by two years. Then, for a 21st birthday present, dad paid his son’s fare to Dover, and Jon, by now a strapping phys-ed student at the University of Illinois Circle Campus in Chicago, responded by clipping three minutes off his old man’s double-crossing time to establish the new record of 30 hours flat.
Jon was followed by a fishing boat that contained his blond trainer, Rosemary George, and the obligatory observer from the Channel Swimming Association to make sure Jon didn’t cheat by hanging on for a free ride. Goggled and covered with lanolin and Vaseline, he churned the 24-mile course from Dover to Sangatte in 11 hours, 59 minutes, but heavy tides, currents, cold water and jellyfish (one of which stung him on the nose) cut his return trip, after the allowable 10-minute feed and relube job on the French shore, to 17 hours, 51 minutes. He was gunning for a 26-hour round trip.
“The night’s the worst thing,” Jon confessed after a 12-hour postswim snooze. “It gets colder at night, and you get the shakes. You swim and shake. Some swimmers get delirious. My stroke slows down to about 40.” (It was about 50 per minute by day.)
Jon, who has been picking up $3,000 a summer in marathon prize money (“It’s better than being a lifeguard”), trained for the crossing by swimming 10 miles a day and kept up his spirits during the long haul by “humming lots of Beatles and Burt Bacharach songs and the Pink Panther tune and thinking of my girl friend Tatiana Smith. Dad is the philosopher-swimmer. He thinks about the moon, the stars and the sun.”
After a hot bath and an ice-cream cone Jon reported, “I feel absolutely fine”—though he’d lost 15 pounds. “But goodness knows what my father will say.” Reached at home in Chicago, Ted Erikson, ever the competitor, cracked: “Let’s see if he can do it again at 37.”