"Then, every day has a little different appeal. Cold, rainy days are pretty. Sometimes you sort of swim into a sunset. It's relaxing, tranquil—swim out into the wild blue and get away from it all. And swimming's fun—a lark. But the more races I swim in, the more pressure there is, which is unfortunate. In a race three hours seems like 20 minutes, but you get periods of great depression. If the race is 20 miles, and I've done about eight or nine, gone a long way but haven't done half yet, then I try to think about something pleasant: how can I afford a dress I want?
"I really pity a lot of the pros," Marty says. "They get so terribly wrapped up in it. Everything else in this life is an anticlimax. Swimming is just part of my life. A fifth. I have other interests. Last year, for instance, I studied art for a semester in Mexico City. In the winter I associate with a different kind of person. I prefer it that way. I don't think most of my friends at home are even aware I swim in these races. Swimming has its little niche—three months of the year.
"I'm suspicious of people who are terribly gung-ho about all phases of athletics—diet, sleep. I eat chocolate ice cream before a race, blueberry pancakes and chocolate cake. ["Why she doesn't sink, I don't know," says Rose Mary Dawson.] I try to think of things that dedicated athletes wouldn't do, and do them. I'm a little critical of people who train so intensely—they become machines instead of people, they become masochists. I just don't believe in it. It's detrimental to your character later, naturally, and to the sport, too. Obsessions can become vicious. You get so wrapped up, you lose perspective. I think parties are important, for instance. Sometimes I won't have anything to drink, but sometimes I really get in the bag."
If her latest performance is any indication, Marty Sinn need not worry about how pancakes and painting in Mexico affect her swimming. Competing in Atlantic City, she was the first woman to finish, beat nine of the 15 men in the field and won a total of $1,000.
The Atlantic City World's Championship Professional Long Distance Swim, which took place July 21, offered $11,100 in "cash awards" and was "open to men and women of the world" for a $35 entry fee, a photograph and a record of past performances. All professional long-distance swims, like many professional wrestling bouts, are for the world championship. The Atlantic City swim was founded 11 years ago by Jimmy Toomey, a former lifeguard who is in the vending-machine business and has invented a better mousetrap, but only lonely long-distance swimmers beat a path to his door.
Marty arrived in Atlantic City four days before the race. She was met by her rower, Boomer Blair, and her feeder, Dr. Wilmer Abbott. Boomer is a 6-foot-6, 265-pound lifeguard captain who played a little football for Minnesota, Seton Hall and the Jersey City Giants and has won the South Jersey Lifeboat Rowing Championship nine times. He has rowed in every Atlantic City race, and each year singlehanded. All the other boats employ two rowers. Dr. Abbott, an Atlantic City dentist, was captain of the 1947 University of Pennsylvania swimming team.
Although the race was to be run with the tide this year—in 1963 many of the swimmers were severely banged up on jetties as they struggled against the tide—Boomer and Dr. Abbott took Marty out to practice at a couple of points where they felt the going might be rough. The first was the Brigantine Bridge, which crosses the back bay within a mile of the finish at the State Marina. It was conceivable that Marty might not make it to the bridge before the tide turned, so three days before the race, at an hour when Boomer figured the incoming tide would simulate that which she might encounter during the race, Marty slipped gingerly out of Boomer's Boston Whaler before Brigantine Bridge. She stood up, adjusting her goggles. "There's dangerous critters down here," she said, apprehensively. She swam along the grassy fiats where the current was weakest and under the bridge between the row of pilings closest to the eastern shore, pulling herself along on them and finally squeezing through an opening that the swimmers call "the rathole." Some discussion followed about whether Dr. Abbott should file the barnacles off the pilings before the race. Marty said she would rather take a chance on getting cut than have them so smooth she could not get a secure grip. The next day Dr. Abbott took her down to Longport, the southernmost point of Absecon island, where the swimmers make the turn into the bay after the 11-mile ocean leg. The previous year many of them had been thrown up against two stone jetties or had been swept out into the channel by the contrary tide.
But most of the time before the race Marty was either taking dips in her hotel pool or in the ocean or reading on the hotel sun deck. She is a prodigious reader. At Ak-O-Mak she is forever wandering about like Hamlet with her nose in a book. Two days before the race she was lounging on the sun deck with a copy of Mad magazine and a well-chewed paperback edition of The Brothers Karamazov. "I know it looks like I really got my teeth into it," Marty said, "but, actually, I find it too depressing. You know, I think War and Peace has much in common with East of Eden, although I suppose Tolstoy would resent the comparison."
There had been some question as to whether Marty would show up for the race. Late in June she had announced she was quitting swimming, and again in July when she was taken out of the water at Chicoutimi after she had swum for two hours against the tide without making any progress. "My first retirement stemmed from too much dull training, too much work—mowing fields, hard labor, swimming," she said now. "It was cold one day, and I didn't feel like going into the water, so I decided I didn't want to swim anymore. I'm temperamental. At Chicoutimi, George Park got so far out in front of me—it was silly. I knew I wasn't going to catch him. I had been in the water for nine hours, and I wasn't getting anywhere. It was impractical—a combination of too much physical drain and too little financial gain.
"I haven't been terribly enthusiastic about swimming this year. The training is getting to be too boring, and I'm beginning to feel a little silly diving in the water, trying to beat everyone. It's a natural but an almost vulgar display of competitive urges. It's so obvious.