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Into the Deep Blue: Finding Connection with the Water Beyond the Pool

Into the Deep Blue: A Lifelong Love for Swimming Catherine Breed Run Tri Bike

From the time she was a tot, California native Catherine Breed has loved the feel of the water as it tumbles over her skin and calms her mind. Diving into the deep blue was a part of her lifestyle from the beginning. This connection with the water beyond the pool has grown and become a part of who she is.

Early Dives: A Swim Journey Begins

Breed started with the summer swim team when she was four and quickly began a regimen of three practices a day, joining the “big kids” swim team practice by participating in a cordoned-off half lane at the pool. 

Breed dabbled in other sports ranging from sailing and ice skating to the more traditional peewee soccer, but swimming is what captivated her the most.

Finding My Lane: From Summer Swim Team to Olympic Trials

By the time she was nine, Breed made the decision to swim year-round, even though she hadn’t yet found her groove in the water, and wouldn’t until she was 14, when she qualified for her first Olympic Trials.

Breed went on to swim at the Division One school of the University of California, Berkeley and specialized in mid-distance and distance freestyle. Her top events were the 200 (1:44:44), 500 (4:38:05) and 1650 (16:10.13) – she also swam on the U.S. National Team and went on to qualify for two more Olympic Trials.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, though, Breed knew that swimming was meant to extend beyond the pool and to be used as a tool to explore the vast ocean that surrounded her hometown. 

“The water and swim team were always my happy place, where my friends were, where I could push myself to be better, and where I could tune out any stress I was feeling,” Breed says. “I grew up exploring the ocean, often via sailing as a kid, so I learned to love and respect open water from a young age.”

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Exploring Beyond Boundaries: The Call of Open Water

As Breed’s college swimming career came to an end, she found herself asking, “What’s next for me?” and “Who am I as a person and an athlete?” 

Breed always came back to her connection to the water and how her mind and body craved the calm and challenges that swimming presented.

She became a member of the Dolphin Club in San Francisco, an open water swimming and rowing team. The club members encouraged Breed to consider marathon open water swimming. Marathon open water swimming covers distances of 10km or longer. This encouragement was something she balked at at first. 

“My clubmates initially encouraged me to try to swim the English Channel, which blew my mind. Who swims 21 miles straight?!” says Breed. “However, with enough peer pressure, I signed up to swim the length of Lake Tahoe – 21 miles – in 2017.”

Breaking Records and Pushing Limits: The Marathon Swims

Breed didn’t just swim the 21 miles – she broke a 31-year-old record by becoming the first person, man or woman, to break nine hours at that course. 

This ignited a passion for marathon open water swimming, and Breed became unstoppable, racking up six world records in the sport:

  • Lake Tahoe, length-wise (21 miles) – 8 hours, 56 minutes
  • Santa Cruz to Monterey (25 miles) – 12 hours, 42 minutes
  • Round Trip Angel Island (10 miles) – 4 hours, 14 minutes 
  • North Channel Relay (21 miles), Guinness World Record – 11 hours, 6 minutes
  • SCAR fastest woman Apache Lake (17 miles) – 4 hours, 59 minutes
  • SCAR overall fastest female (41.7 miles total) – 13 hours

No wetsuits are allowed in Breed’s marathon open water swims.

Breed was also the first person to attempt to swim from the Golden Gate Bridge to Half Moon Bay. This is a 27-mile journey that many scoff at when it comes to running. Now, imagine swimming for that distance.

She notes that this was one of her most rewarding swims. This swim and her Lake Tahoe record stand out because “both swims were executed perfectly and felt magical.”

Her hardest open water swim was the Santa Cruz to Monterey Bay adventure. 

“I swam almost entirely in the pitch black to avoid high winds during the day. The water was bumpy and slow,” Breed says. “With about four hours to go I was cutting it close to setting a new record. I had to dig as deep as I possibly could to break the 13-hour barrier while simultaneously getting stung by Sea Nettles on my entire body.”

Life Lessons From Open Water Swimming

Breed has learned plenty of life lessons from her experiences with open water swimming. She applies them to her career in medical device sales and her adventures in new sports such as triathlon. Beyond that, the life lessons have helped her in overcoming injuries and athletic setbacks. 

Advice from the Depths: Catherine Breed’s Tips for Open Water Swimmers

  1. You are tougher than you realize and the concept of “grit” is a “muscle” you can and should exercise regularly.
  2. Work with Mother Nature; stop trying to fight the current and the waves, embrace it instead. And if you can’t, stop, give yourself grace, and try again another day.
  3. You cannot do hard things alone – you need a support system. 

“I have been fortunate to be surrounded by the best support system ever. I always do these open water swims for a reason bigger than just for me and my satisfaction,” Breed says. “In the hard moments, I think of those people and those reasons, and I am able to keep pushing.”

Breed’s Advice For New Open Water Swimmers

Breed knows that not everyone finds open water as comforting as she does. For some, open water swimming is a terrifying pursuit. 

She advises open water swimming with a friend, preferably someone who is comfortable in open water. 

“Try to find a calm, sunny day and in the middle of your swim. Pause and reflect on how beautiful your surroundings are. Connect with those surroundings,” Breed suggests. “I would also highly recommend trying body surfing to learn how to manage waves upon entering and exiting ocean water.”

Breed is also an open water swim coach and has worked with both new and veteran swimmers. 

Staying Afloat: The Enduring Passion for Open Water

Authentically loving the feeling of open water swimming on her body and mind is what has allowed Breed to stay invested and enthralled with the sport for so many years. Her ability to connect her sport to larger life lessons makes for a truly enduring athlete.

Kristin Jenny Run Tri Bike Magazine Contributor

Kristin Jenny is an eight-time Ironman finisher and multi-time Kona qualifier. She is based in Boulder, CO where she enjoys spending as much time outdoors as possible with her husband and dog. Kristin is passionate about helping others enter the world of endurance sports and to experience all the triathlon community has to offer.