The team included Hiser’s friends Bonnie Brown, Suzanne Greva, Lisa Serebin and Sylvia Marino. The Nymphs finished the 21-mile relay swim from England to France in 15 hours and 24 minutes. As a frame of reference, teams have historically finished in an average range between seven hours and fewer to 20 hours and more.
Qualifying for the swim was no toe dip in the shallow end. Between writing an essay on “Why I Swim,” completing medical forms and other documentation and dozens of signatures, Hiser said, “It’s harder to get into than a Springsteen concert.” The team signed up in 2009 for this 2011 relay.
The Nymphs trained for 10 months prior to the event. Their first hurdle was to make sure they could stay in cold water for more than an hour at a time. The required “swim costume” was a swimsuit and silicone cap. Wet suits were not allowed.
The Channel Swim Association assigned a “pilot” to each relay team. The association has licensed each pilot to escort a team from a support boat. “Our pilot was in an old fishing boat. I had ‘pilot envy’ when I saw some of the other boats,” Hiser quipped.
The pilot is an official observer, ensuring that the team follows the rules or they can be disqualified. For example, while in the water swimmers are not allowed to touch the boat, and they must swim for an hour each leg, maintaining the same order in the rotation. He is also there for emergencies.
The English Channel is the world’s busiest shipping expanse, so swimmers didn’t only have to watch out for the native jellyfish, Portuguese man-of-wars and occasional shark visitors, but also the cold 57 to 58 degree waters, powerful currents, wind and fog. They were also competing with giant freighters that might suddenly overtake them. The pilot’s job included watching for “traffic” and alerting the swimmers.
When asked what possessed her to take on the lofty competition, 50-year-old Hiser explained, “My girlfriends cooked it up one day after swimming a rough Alcatraz swim [a popular San Francisco open water swim route]. They were chatting in the shower, figured that the conditions they’d just swum were so rough that it was good training for the Channel, and that they might as well just do it… and then they informed me that I was going to do it as well.”
“Before the first lap, I was just thinking how ‘big’ the water was, but how beautiful at the same time,” she said. “We were close enough to still see Dover in the background. I loved the water… the really huge expanses of water.”
She said she had somewhat of a panic attack after swimming her first leg, but that by the third she was having a ball, and threw her bathing suit to the pilot. He did throw it back to her… eventually.
In addition to the Channel relay, Hiser has participated with the South End Rowing Club in swimming, rowing and handball on the Bay.
“I never dreamed in my life I would end up doing these things, or much less craving them. I basically consider myself a wimp,” she admitted.
For three years the swimmer participated in the Escape from Alcatraz lottery triathlon. “I am a slow swimmer, but I just love to swim. My goal is not to be last!” she said.
She said that the Alcatraz crossing is so much fun that her mood was soaring for a week. Competitions are held year-round, in water ranging from about 47 to the low 60 degrees. She said the cold water is very exhilarating.
The Sea Nymphs plus one man, whom they named “Poseidon” after the mythical king of the sea, applied for a 2012 New York Swim Club event to swim around Manhattan. They look forward to learning if they qualified.
The attorney attended Vanderbilt and graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut. She completed her J.D. with honors in 1987 from The University of Texas in Austin, where she received a dean’s award. She is a member of Phi Delta Phi Academic Honor Society.
Hiser has practiced law in San Francisco since 1982, and opened the Law Offices of Miriam Hiser in 1999.
She is a trial attorney specializing in institutional bankruptcy litigation in state and federal district courts. She has prosecuted appeals before the United States Court of Appeals and the United States Bankruptcy Appellate Panel.
According to Hiser, she first dived into the sport of swimming as a four-year-old when her mom got her into lessons at the YMCA, and she has had a passion for the sport ever since.
In 2008, she began “open water” swimming.
While at Woodrow, Hiser performed in the band, participated in the musicals and choir and was co-valedictorian of her class. Her sister, Tracy, WW ’81 was also co-valedictorian of her class, and is now a diplomat in the Foreign Service.
Hiser’s brother, Bill, salutatorian of WW ’83, played on the Wildcat football team with Heisman Trophy-winner Tim Brown. He is a cardiologist today. Kenyon, a ’76 WW graduate, is a Naval captain. His sibling commented, “All four of us are high achievers who got off to a great start at Woodrow.” Their proud parents reside in Lake Highlands.
Hiser lives in the Marina area of San Francisco with her two loud cats.
While preparing for a big trial this week, Hiser said, “I’m thinking that I’ll do an Alcatraz crossing tomorrow morning to clear my head for trial on Monday.”
Then there are some of us who just eat chocolate for that.
White Rock Lake Weekly sends English kudos, French lauriers and gloire to Miriam Hiser on her accomplishments and courage.