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Citadel News Service
30 Nov 2016

Citadel alumna/instructor/veteran earns title for Straits of Gibraltar swim

Marathon swimmer named Oldest Female Swimmer completing crossing in 2016


Citadel alumna and instructor Nancy Haynsworth swimming the Straits of Gibraltar 2016

Citadel Graduate College alumna and U.S. Air Force veteran, who is now an instructor at the college, has earned the position as the oldest woman to swim across the Straits of Gibraltar in 2016. Nancy Haynsworth, who is 59, was named Oldest Female Swimmer with Neoprene for 2016 by the Asociación Cruce a Nado Estrechio de Gibraltar (ACNEG) in late November. According to the ACNEG, 22 of the 141 people who successfully made the swim in 2016 were women. 

Haynsworth is a marathon swimming hobbyist who teaches aquatics, lifeguarding, swimming, and Haynsworth and the other swimmers leaving SpainContemporary Health and Fitness Foundation courses at The Citadel. She graduated with a Master’s degree in Health Exercise and Sport Science in 2010 after serving as a Navy fitness professional in the Kingdom of Bahrain and at other Naval facilities for a decade. Prior to that civilian assignment, she served as an aircraft maintenance officer in the Air Force.

“I started competitive swimming at the age of 40, so I could swim with my two children,” Haynsworth said. “We competed in swim meets throughout Europe when I was stationed there. My son swam for the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and my daughter swims for the academy now. She was part of my support crew, monitoring my hydration, stroke rate, and body temperature during the swim in the strait.”

Haynsworth eventually switched from Masters Swimming to Marathon Swimming in 2008, and began training for the Gibraltar swim after setting it as a personal goal to accomplish as a celebration for her 60th birthday.

“I trained very hard for three years for this particular event, swimming a minimum of 30,000 Haynsworth swimming the Straits of Gibraltar meters per week along with strength and functional fitness land training and extra land cardio, while adhering to a sound nutrition program,” Haynsworth said. “It is a thrill to be the oldest person to accomplish the swim this year, just in time for my 60th.”

In mid-October, Haynsworth left her James Island home and traveled to Spain where she had a five-day window to attempt the swim according to ACNEG regulations. On Oct. 15 conditions, including the wind, currents and boat traffic in the busy shipping channel, made it possible for her to attempt the challenge. Wearing a wetsuit, Haynsworth, along with two other swimmers, set off for the 12.5-mile swim in water that was approximately 70 degrees. She completed the feat in 6.5 hours; the other two swimmers were unable to complete the journey.

The Strait of Gibraltar is located between Spain and Morocco. It connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and separates Gibraltar and peninsular Spain in Europe, from Morocco and Ceuta in Africa. The straight was not Haynsworth’s longest swim — that was a 9 1/2 hour swim across the Long Island Sound — but it was the most difficult due to the environmental conditions in the treacherous channel.

Pointers for serious swimmers

Haynsworth shared some information and tips for other serious swimmers:

Q. Who supported your swim to ensure your safety?

A. My daughter Joyce, a college swimmer for the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, accompanied me as support crew. During a marathon swim, the support crew ensures that feeds (calories/carbs/fluids) are delivered on time. The crew also assesses the stroke rate and monitors the general condition of the swimmer, looking for signs of hypothermia and dehydration, while encouraging the swimmer. There was a hard-hulled boat called La Columba with a crew that stayed in contact with the harbor master for alerts about the shipping channels, currents and marine life. There was a second boat, the El Duende de Mar, that stayed close to the three swimmers.

Q.What was the most challenging moment of your Gibraltar swim?

A.The most challenging part of the swim was the second three hours; the wind and waves kicked up so that I was swimming in double-overhead conditions.

Q. What other marathons have you completed?

A. Luckily, I have been successful in all of my marathon swimming attempts which have included Key West, Long Island Sound, Tennessee River, Swim Around Charleston, and the Strait of Gibraltar.

Q. What is your next swimming goal?

A. I am training to swim Lake Memphremagog in July of 2017. It is a 10-mile swim in a cold water lake on the border of Vermont and Canada.

Q. What is your favorite course to swim in the Charleston area?

A. I most frequently swim from the Highway 41 Bridge to the I-526 bridge at Daniel Island and back.

Q. You have several ties with The Citadel, don’t you?

A. I live on James Island, although we are a retired military family who spent a total of 17 years serving our country overseas. My husband, Richard Haynsworth graduated as a member of the South Carolina Corps of Cadets in 1976. His family has deep Charleston roots and his relatives attended The Citadel from the time the college was established in the 1800s.

Q. What website would you recommend for swimmers who want to learn more about training for and registering to swim the Straits of Gibraltar?

A. or email

Q. What is your advice to athlete hobbyists about keeping focused on a major goal?

A. Consistency is key. Make a goal that is challenging, yet achievable. Begin with the end in mind; design your training program that way. Do what you love; love what you do!

Haynsworth is currently pursuing a doctorate in public health and is working on a program to increase drowning prevention strategies for underserved populations. She is also featured on The Citadel’s special web section celebrating diversity milestones and the accomplishments of alumnae. Her article can be read by clicking here.

Haynesworth completes swim across Straits of Gibraltar

Photographs courtesy of Alfonso Gamaza,

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