Montgomery Magazine February/March 2017 : Page 16

county lines MONTGOMERY PEOPLE MARATHON MAN As an open water swimmer, Poolesville’s Jim Clifford has a world record and few equals By Charles Jeffries n Photo by Hilary Schwab Jim Clifford is an attorney in Gaithersburg, a farmer in Poolesville and a marathon swimmer who has few equals in the world. When he walked ashore in France in September 2015 after swimming there from England, he stamped his name in the history book of the World Open Water Swimming Association as the oldest person in the world to complete the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming and one of only two people to do all three legs in his 60s. He was two months shy of his 64th birthday when he swam the 21 miles of the English Channel, and 62 when he completed the 20.2-mile swim across the Catalina Channel between Santa Catalina Island and the California mainland and the 28.5-mile Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (one loop around Manhattan). For Clifford, it has been a swimming life. “I swam at the University of Maryland; was captain in ’73. I did masters swimming for 10 years, then started raising kids and did all the things parents do and stopped swimming,” he says. “I hit my 50s and said, ‘I’ve got to get back to swimming.’ After about three years, I started doing longer swims. I found out about the open water sport and got interested. When I heard about the triple crown I said, ‘Hell, I can do that.’” Clifford makes it sound a lot easier than it is. His time of 10 hours, 3 minutes across the English Channel was the fastest in history for a swimmer over 50. When he crossed the Catalina Channel in September 2014, he became the oldest swimmer to do so (62 years, 11 months). His son, Jake, has been on the boat as part of Clifford’s crew for each of the swims. “The boat captain and crew decide whether you should be pulled from the water or not. You want them to err on the side of not pulling the swimmer so I want someone who knows me,” Clifford says. “He’s my rock. He makes sure the right calls are made.” Back in Montgomery County, Clifford is a land use attorney, helping people navigate the complexities of property law. On weekends he farms 100 acres near Poolesville, growing corn, wheat and soybeans and doing most of the farm labor without power tools. “I do everything by hand. I try to use my upper body as much as possible,” he says. “It’s a way to train and get work done at the same time.” That’s almost a necessity in Clifford’s life. He has grandkids he likes to spend time with, attends most of the University of Maryland basketball and football games and trains for two hours a day, four days a week plus tries to work in a lengthy open water swim on weekends and on vacation. Once in Bar Harbor, Maine, he asked a lifeguard if it would be OK if he swam out to an island about half-a-mile off shore a couple of times. “The lifeguard said they didn’t really have any rules about it because not many people swim in the water,” Clifford says. For vacation (well, sort of) Clifford goes to Ireland for 10 days every summer to train with other marathon swimmers in 50-degree water. They push themselves to the brink of hypothermia as a way to prepare their bodies for the grueling, cold-water marathon swims. One swim he hopes to complete is from Ireland to Scotland in the North Sea. In another context, people might call Clifford crazy for the things he does. But to the 142 people who have completed the triple crown, he’s just one of them. 14 // February/March 2017

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