Maroney, Susan Jean (1974—)

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Maroney, Susan Jean (1974—)

Australian long-distance swimmer . Born in Sydney, Australia, in 1974.

Won the U.S. championship in endurance swimming (25 kilometers, 1989); swam the English Channel in record time (1990); became the first Australian to double cross the English Channel, setting a new record of 17 hours, 14 minutes (1991); became the first woman to swim from Cuba to Florida (1997).

Susan Jean Maroney was born prematurely along with her twin sister in Sydney, Australia, in 1974. She began participating in swimming carnivals when she was seven years old and, at age 14, placed second in Australia's first women's endurance championship of 16 kilometers (10 miles). In the same year, Maroney won the U.S. championship in endurance held at Long Beach, California, swimming 25 kilometers (15.6 miles), and placed second in the 48-kilometer (30-mile) Manhattan Island swim.

In 1989, at age 15, Maroney swam the English Channel, setting a new record in the process. She returned to the English Channel in 1991, when she became the first Australian to double cross the Channel; her time of 17 hours and 14 minutes became a new world record. She also won the Australian marathon championship in Tasmania in 1991.

In June 1996, Maroney, in an attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida, swam 107 miles in 38.5 hours, but she abandoned the water just 12 miles short of her goal. Bad weather had slowed her progress, and she suffered from seasickness, dehydration, and other injuries. She attempted the crossing again the following year, in May 1997, with an observer from the Guinness Book of World Records aboard her escort boat to ensure her status as the first person to accomplish the swim. Covered in petroleum jelly to ward off jellyfish, and swimming behind her escort boat in a 28-by-28-foot cage to protect against shark attack, Maroney completed the crossing and arrived at Fort Zachary State Park in the Florida Keys, six miles beyond her original goal. She swam the 118-mile trip in 24 hours and 30 minutes. (Maroney's claim that she was the first person to accomplish the swim between Cuba and Florida was instantly disputed. Walter Poenisch had made the crossing in 1978, but no independent observers were present to be sure he was completely unassisted. Critics also noted that Poenisch, whose time was 34 hours and 15 minutes, used flippers.) Badly sunburned and suffering from dehydration and jellyfish stings, Maroney collapsed during a live television interview shortly after completing the swim but quickly regained consciousness. Nonetheless, she said, "It was the best feeling in the world. I was so glad to touch sand."


The Day [New London, CT]. May 13, 1997.

Vamplew, Wray, et al., eds. The Oxford Companion to Australian Sport. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Kari Bethel , freelance writer, Columbia, Missouri