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On the Fourth of July in 1951, Florence Chadwick, the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions, attempted to swim from Catalina Island to the California coast. The challenge was not so much the distance, but the bone-chilling waters of the Pacific. To complicate matters, a dense fog lay over the entire area, making it impossible for her to see land. After about 15 hours in the water, and within a half mile of her goal, Chadwick gave up. Later she told a reporter, “Look, I’m not excusing myself. But if I could have seen land, I might have made it.” Not long afterward she attempted the feat again.

Once more a misty veil obscured the coastline and she couldn’t...

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