Inside Robert McGlashan's Double Crossing of the Magellan Strait
Katelyn Sander

Inside Robert McGlashan's Double Crossing of the Magellan Strait

Living Well

In November 2022, TAC Member and avid marathon open-water swimmer, Robert McGlashan, without the aid of a special suit, completed a double crossing of the Strait of Magellan – located at the South of Chile and to the North of Antarctica where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet – with a total time of 2 hours and 58 minutes.

Previously called “the sailor graveyard,” McGlashan’s 12km swim – in 6oC water – marked the first time this trip has ever been attempted or completed. It was such a feat that the Chilean Navy even submitted Robert’s swim to the Guinness Book of World Records.

We had the opportunity to catch up with Robert in one of his favourite places – our penthouse pool! 

First, we have to know, what made you want to take on these swim challenges?

When I started doing the open-water swims, I was motivated by a desire to give myself a real challenge. Something that would really demand the most out of me and require a higher level of training and preparation.

With time, my goals expanded and changed. I was motivated to try swims that have never been attempted, would truly be a world first, and that would be a challenge with an outcome that was completely unknown. The swims offer me an opportunity to do something I find tremendously exciting, in a sport that I love, all while providing a way for me to raise money for charity.

Who have been your biggest supporters as you pursued these challenges?

I was very lucky when I was preparing for the swims because my friends and family were supportive and enthusiastic about me trying the swims and even came out to help with safety for my trial swims, like when I tried to do 6 ice kilometres over 5 weeks to get acclimated to water under 5oC.

I was also very fortunate that open-water swimmers like John Scott, Madhu Nagaraja, and Michael Pollenen gave me their time and advice as I prepared for Lake Ontario and Magellan, which was really inspiring.

Did you encounter any barriers or surprises as you prepared for your Strait of Magellan swim?

There were several.

As I pushed through longer and colder swims during my training, I had to get used to numbness in my fingers and toes, which initially lasted for several weeks. I also had to learn to deal with afterdrop and recovery from hypothermia. 

On the other hand, there were also tons of pleasant surprises.

As the weeks went on, practices that were initially impossible or difficult started to become more comfortable. I was also able to work with Bob Berezowski and Joanne Ukposidolo at the Sport Medicine Clinic, who helped me work on my recovery, so any injuries I suffered resolved quickly.

It sounds like the training was difficult and dangerous. How did it compare to the big day itself?

On the big day, I was surrounded by tons of support. The Chilean Navy was there to support my swim and I had frog men and 2 ambulances on standby, as well as medical personnel. The only thing I had to focus on was swimming and making it back across the Strait.

In comparison, many of my training swims were done alone in open water early in the morning or late at night, and in some cases the water was less than 5°C. I always made sure that I felt confident, and there were always precautions taken for safety, but, realistically, some of the practice swims were a little risky. They helped to develop a comfort level for me with the “yikes factor” of open water and winter swimming, so the actual day felt much safer and controlled.

For you, is there a mindfulness element to swimming?

Training and preparing for a double of Magellan was a great exercise in improving mindfulness.

There were training sessions where I just put in the time or kilometres, but the best practice sessions were ones where I focused on every stroke and both embraced and was present for the process.

You’ve been a Cambridge Group of Clubs member for many years. What keeps you coming back to the Clubs?

I love the Cambridge Clubs, the Toronto Athletic Club, and its members.

I feel inspired by the members who are all exciting people, working in fascinating areas, and who are also training and preparing for different events and personal and professional challenges.

I am especially grateful to work with James Corcoran. He is completely dedicated to his clients’ success. I definitely could not have done this without his help and expertise.

And finally, do you have any tips for the beginner swimmers in our midst?

Embrace it - I love the sport!

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