Grandmother makes history as first person to complete 17-hour swim through shark-infested waters

A grandmother became the first person in history to complete a treacherous 29.7-mile solo swim through freezing, shark-infested waters without a wetsuit.

Amy Appelhans Gubser, 55, a paediatric nurse from Pacifica, California, completed the gruelling feat of endurance from San Francisco to the Farallon Islands in 17 hours.

The route marks “the toughest marathon swim in the world,” the Marathon Swimmers Federation says.

Ms Gubser, a mother-of-two and grandmother, has been training in cold water for a decade, including marathon swims in both Monterey Bay and the North Channel, the strait between Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The Farallones swim is both longer and colder than her prior expeditions, with sea temperatures plummeting to 7C (44F).

After a quick snooze following a shift at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, Ms Gubser arrived at the Golden Gate Bridge.

Then, at approximately 3.25am on Saturday, she plunged into the chilly Pacific Ocean from a boat on the bridge’s east side.

Gulf of the Farallones lies off the northern California coast (Getty/iStock)
Gulf of the Farallones lies off the northern California coast (Getty/iStock)

She was not allowed to wear a wetsuit, so instead sported a black and white swimsuit in an attempt to trick sharks into thinking she might be an orca, she said.

Five people have completed the Gulf of the Farallones swim alone in some form. Only Ms Gubser has completed its most difficult route: heading east to west, fighting both the tide and wind most of the way.

“It was the toughest thing that I have ever set out to do,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle.

While mostly swimming solo, she wasn’t totally alone. Chad Dahlberg of Pacific Rival Fisheries captained a boat filled with a support team of swimmers that included John Chapman, Abby Fairman, Kirk McKinney, Ken Mignosa, Sarah Roberts and John Sims.

Ms Guber had never trained in conditions colder than 8C (47F), and she entered uncharted waters when she faced the icy ocean.

Rules dictated that the grandmother wasn’t allowed a wetsuit (Marathon Swimmers Federation/YouTube)
Rules dictated that the grandmother wasn’t allowed a wetsuit (Marathon Swimmers Federation/YouTube)

“My progress was slowed because I was chilled to the bone. I did not expect 43 degrees. That was nuts,” she added.

She swam, oblivious, past a dead sealine that had been “chomped” by a shark, Ms Roberts told the Los Angeles Times.

The waters around the Farallon Islands are home to an abundance of great white sharks, according to the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

Each stroke for the entire 17 hours was pain, but the thought of her stepbrother, Dan Fine, 67, who is fighting pancreatic cancer kept her going.

“I wanted my kids to be proud of me, and I wanted my grandkids to be proud of me,” she said.

Money wasn’t the motivator for her Farallones swim; there was no financial reward for reaching the Fisherman Bay buoy.

Asked if she thought her life would change as a result of her record, the endurance athlete replied: “I’m still at work today, aren’t I?”

Just three days after her Herculean effort, Ms Gruber was back in San Francisco Bay swimming.