Solana Beach swimmer sets world record from Catalina

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SOLANA BEACH, Calif. – Grace Van der Byl’s husband, Neil, could not contain his excitement as she finished up the last couple yards of her world-record swim Friday.

Neil, paddling alongside 34-year-old Van der Byl in a kayak, blew on a vuvuzela as she completed the 21-mile Catalina Channel swim in 7:27:25, shaving nearly 20 minutes off the previous record set in 1994.

“I actually thought I was going slow because I could feel the current pushing me sideways,” Van der Byl said. “So, I thought, ‘Oh well. I’m just going to do what I can.’”

“At that point, I got really excited and started kicking it in. My coach started screaming and cheering and everybody on the boat was getting really excited. So, I knew something special was happening,” she said.

“Everyone involved knew what the record was,” said Joe Benjamin, Van der Byl’s coach who rode in a chase boat. “We knew it was in sight. It was one of those things that you just didn’t quite talk about. But everyone was talking about it.”

“I wanted it so bad,” Van der Byl said. “I sent my crew out an email a couple of days before with what I wanted. One of the things I put was, ‘If conditions allow, I want to do something really special and finish really fast.’”

Van der Byl set the world record in her first attempt at swimming the Catalina channel. But it’s not her first record. She also set eight world records in a 120-mile, seven-day swim down the Hudson River earlier this year.

She also owns several masters age-group records in the pool.

“I just love swimming,” Van der Byl said. “I don’t just want to swim. I need to swim.”

“To be good at anything like that, you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. At this point in my life, I just am better and better at being comfortable being uncomfortable,” she said.

Her discomfort did not stop after her record swim either.

In her first day back to work coaching swimming at the San Dieguito Boys and Girls Club, she showed up on crutches – the result of an infection after stepping on a sea urchin climbing out of the water.

“Sure enough, I took a swell into the point and then when I got off, I stepped right on top of a sea urchin,” Van der Byl said. “Golly, 21 miles didn’t get me but that bloody sea urchin did. It’s silly.”

After setting another world record, Van der Byl can laugh about almost anything now.

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