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For the record: La Jollan lowers mark for channel swim

A La Jollan owns yet another aquatic distinction: a men’s world record for a Catalina Channel swim.

Last week, Todd Robinson, 42, who works in the U.S. attorney’s office, started the swim at Doctor’s Cove near Two Harbors shortly after midnight Aug. 25, and finished at the lighthouse at Point Vicente near Palos Verdes about 8 hours and 5 minutes later, topping by nine minutes the previous record of 8 hours, 14 minutes for the 21-mile trek.

Robinson described the water conditions for his swim as so-so.

“You take the conditions as they come,” he said. “It wasn’t pitching seas. It wasn’t flat. We were fortunate enough to be able to put in a good effort and get a decent time.”

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Robinson credits friends, loved ones and trainers who were there for him for inspiring him to complete his self-appointed mission.

“I can’t emphasize enough the support I had,” he said. “I trained with the same guys and women all summer long, swimmers who paced me at intervals. In the channel, it was good having a friend swimming next to you with a glow stick. It was a very unique experience.”

For Robinson, the significance wasn’t so much attaining the end result, but how he got there.

“It was a challenge,” he admitted. “But the best part of the whole endeavor was the training that led up to it; enjoying the camaraderie of all my training partners. We just had a lot of fun.”

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Robinson was in good company on his historic swim as his team included another La Jollan, Anne Cleveland, a fellow member of the La Jolla Cove Swim Club who has also completed the Catalina Channel swim as well as the Maui and English channels. At 48 in 2004, she became the oldest person to swim the English Channel both ways.

Cleveland said she was impressed by Robinson’s commitment.

“I just would watch in awe as he did his training swims,” she said. “It was just amazing how he put that much effort into something he really wanted.”

Cleveland said she sensed Robinson really had that rare combination of ability and desire to complete a long-distance, open-water swim.

“I knew he really had a good shot at the record given halfway decent conditions that day,” she said. “A light current slowed him down just a little bit, but he swam through that. He held a pace of 2.2 knots an hour, which is phenomenally fast, which he held for most of the swim.”

Toward the end, Cleveland said Robinson had to contend with a significant water temperature drop.

“Water temperature was 66 to 68 degrees most of the way,” she said. “But it dropped down to the low 60s near the end - he was really tested.”

Robinson said the impact of the water temperature drop was mostly mental.

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“It was more of a psychological than a physical challenge,” he said. “At that point, I just really tried to maintain a steady pace.”

Doing that while getting cold was the tough part.

“I’m not a very accomplished cold-water swimmer,” he admitted. “People swim out in the Cove all year round. I can’t do it.”

Cold or not, Robinson got the job done. Cleveland, a Realtor and an observer for the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation, said “he put his head down and swam and did not stop until he crawled out onto some rather large boulders on the other side.”

Robinson said his next challenge will be the Maui channel, adding that it’s an easier undertaking than the Catalina Channel.

“It’s nine to 10 miles during the daytime, the temperature is warm and I’ve done it a number of times.”