Charles Zibelman

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Charles Zibelman smoking a cigar while swimming in the Hudson River
Charles Zibelman smoking a cigar while swimming in the Hudson River
Charles Zibelman before his English Channel attempt in 1933
The Albany, New York dock where Charles Zibelman started his 148-hour non-stop swim down the Hudson River
Endurance swimmer Charles Zibelman
Charles Zibelman training for a Straits of Florida attempt
Charles Zibelman training for a Straits of Florida attempt

Charles "Zimmy" Zibelman or Charles Zibleman (born 1891, died 1952) was an American open water swimmer who was inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame as an Honour Swimmer in 1966.

Nicknamed Zimmy the Human Fish, Zimmy, Charles Zimmy, The Legless Wonder, Zimmy the Human Fish, and The Human Fish on the carnival circuit. Zibelman was the son of Russian immigrants and made a living on the carnival circuit, but soon started exhibition swimming, setting endurance records. Part of his “story” was that he lost his legs at age 9 in a trolley accident – but the truth was that he suffered from caudal regression syndrome and was born without legs. Records indicate that he was interned in Forest Lawn in 1952.

Open Water Swimming Career Highlights

  • He performed swimming and diving exhibitions in Chicago in the 1920s.
  • He competed in the 1931 Manly International 500 Endurance Swimming Contest that was the first professional swimming contest of its kind in Australia as well as a charity swim for the Manly Hospital Citizens' Relief Fund. 60 swimmers from England, America, Italy, New Zealand and Australia, including 14 women, Mercedes Gleitze and Lily Copplestone, competed in the non-stop competition in January 1931. The competitors were fed with liquid food through a tube provided by assistants from a boat. The food consisted of chicken broth, milk, and chocolate in liquid form.
  • He claimed the record for continuous swimming by completing 100 consecutive hours (4 days 4 hours 15 seconds) in a swimming pool in Hawaii in 1931.
  • He completed a 233 km (145-mile) stage swim down the Hudson River in 148 hours finishing at 9 pm on 29 August 1937, while he never left the water, losing 12 kg (26 lbs) during his swim from a dock in Albany, New York to the 129th Street ferry dock in Manhattan Island at the age of 46. The swim was covered by the New York Times and Life Magazine, 13 September 1937 issue.
  • During his 6 day 4 hour swim down the Hudson River to join the 24-hour Club, he suggested that his next attempt would be to swim from Key West, Florida to Havana, Cuba and was televised on 14 February 1938 training for the crossing.
  • He tried to swim across the Catalina Channel, but failed on 15 January 1927 during the Wrigley Ocean Marathon Swim. He was coached by Ben Lauterbeck.
  • He abandoned an attempt to cross the English Channel on 10 September 1932 after swimming for 18 hours, escorted by escort boat Crested Cock from South Foreland.
  • On 14 August 1933, he made a second attempt of the English Channel, swimming for 10 hours 56 minutes when heavy mist made further swimming impossible.
  • On 1 September 1933, he made a third attempt of the English Channel, swimming for 13 hours 3 minutes, abandoning this crossing 9 miles off the South Foreland.

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