Lawyer Seeks ‘Old Man of Channel’ Title

Times Staff Writer

For most of the past 18 months, lawyer John Hill’s daily routine was something like this:

Wake up at 3 a.m. Do stretching exercises. Jump the chain-link fence of the pool at his health club at 5 a.m. Swim for several hours. Appear in court all day. Swim for several more hours. Take a nap around 7 p.m. Wake up at 8 p.m to spend a little time with his wife. Go back to bed at 9.

Pleading civil cases all day interfered with his swimming, so for the past two months, Hill has been on leave from his Los Angeles law practice. He has been swimming up to 10 hours a day, 50 miles a week, training for the day when he would attempt to become the oldest person ever to swim from Catalina Island to the mainland. That day is today.

About 16 Hours

Hill, 49, expects his swim, measured at 22 miles, to take about 16 hours, but says the challenge is worth it.


“I must be crazy, because I’m not even a very good swimmer,” he said in an interview last week. “I’m pretty slow and I don’t have very good technique, but I just feel like I have to do it.”

Because he started “about 40 years late for this kind of swimming,” Hill says he concentrates more than most swimmers on technique and style, and trains longer and harder than some younger swimmers.

In addition, Hill follows what he calls a “rigorous diet plan.”

“I eat everything, all the time, as much as I can get,” he deadpanned. “Lots of sweets, cakes, pastries, maybe a quart of ice cream. That’s one of the fringe benefits. You train so hard, you can eat just about anything you want. I get through my morning swim by promising myself three or four stuffed croissants for breakfast.”

Night Swim

The swim, in time-honored tradition, will take place at night, when the ocean is supposed to be more calm, if colder, than during the day.

Hundreds of swimmers have attempted the Catalina Channel crossing since chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley sponsored a celebrated competition in 1927, but only 53 have succeeded, according to the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation, a group which promotes interest in channel swims. Federation co-founders John York and Penny Dean are helping train Hill for the endurance swim. Both have made the swim themselves, Dean in a record 7 hours and 15 minutes.

A devoted athlete and marathon runner for the last 12 years, Hill said he took up swimming just four years ago, in preparation for Hawaii’s Ironman World Triathlon, in which he has competed four times.


“It became really addictive,” he said. “About a year and a half ago, I decided to give up running and hiking so I could devote my time to getting ready for this swim.”

Marineland Finish

Hill will begin his attempt from the island at 8 tonight and hopes to finish about noon Monday on the beach near Marineland.

The oldest person to make the crossing so far is Dr. William Flater, a Californian who did it in 1957. Flater also was 49, but was a few months younger than Hill.