Not everyone has the same goals in life. Some aspire to see their name in lights on Hollywood Boulevard, earn techie millions in Silicon Valley, or make a difference through politics. Others test their physical limits, battling for gold at the Olympics. And then there are those that defy nearly all logic, gaining superlative recognition through truly incredible feats of strength (both physical and psychological) with achievements that seem impossible to mere mortals like ourselves. Tucumán native Matías Ola falls into that last group: this week, he plans to swim across the English Channel – from Dover, England to Cap Griz Nez, France – making him the first Argentine ever to complete the coveted Open Water Swimming Triple Crown.
The English Channel is like the Mount Everest of open water swimming and is certainly not for the faint of heart. The route forms part of the Oceans Seven challenge (sadly, George Clooney is not included this time around), a marathon swimming challenge consisting of – yep, you guessed it – seven open water swims across the world. Devised in 2008 and compared to mountaineering’s Seven Summits, it includes the North Channel, the Cook Straight, the Molokai Channel, the English Channel, the Catalina Channel, the Tsugaru Strait, and the Strait of Gibraltar. To date, only 15 swimmers in history have managed to complete it, none of them from South America.
View this post on Instagram
Hace muchos años soñé con este momento de encontrarme cerca de intentar un desafío tan inmenso como cruzar el Canal de la Mancha. Nadar de Inglaterra 🇬🇧 a Francia 🇫🇷 significa para los nadadores escalar hasta la gran cima del monte Everest. En los pocos años que llevo nadando y compartiendo mi mensaje UNIR EL MUNDO 🌍 conocí a muchos nadadores que lograron esta proeza. Ejemplos que llevo conmigo siempre.🙂 Todos me animaban a algún día intentarlo. Yo sabia que tenia que sumar experiencias que me calificaran para presentarme ante esta nueva aventura. La emoción es grande!!! Y el amor que recibo de mi familia y amigos de todo el mundo es aún mayor. Jamás hubiese imaginado en mi niñez que iba a recorrer el mundo nadando por la paz, la amistad, por los océanos y por mantener viva la llama del deporte desde donde provengo. Si hay un único legado que quiero dejar es simplemente ese. Este es mi primer día en Inglaterra en el Puerto de Dover desde donde se dará inicio mi hazaña cuando el clima lo permita.🤞🏽 Quiero disfrutar este nado al máximo y enfrentar esas más de 10 horas nadando con la mejor energía posible. Warm Warm Warme hugs!!! Come to me 🙂🏊🏼♂️🇦🇷 #UnirElMundo #Deporte #OpenWater #Argentina #EnglishChannel
And get this: Matías plans to swim the 42 kilometers from England to France without the protection and insulation of a neoprene wetsuit. That’s right. Imagine tackling the icy, choppy waters in just a regular old traje de baño. Yikes! Talk about brave (and maybe a little loco). He’s already completed two of the seven swims, having ticked the Strait of Gibraltar and the Catalina Channel off of his to-do list. By successfully swimming the English Channel, he would be awarded the prestigious and elusive Triple Crown title by the World Open Water Swimming Association.
But wait – there’s more! Really, there’s more. Would you believe me if I said that Matías learned to swim just 13 years ago, at the age of 21? After learning he could manage his asthma by swimming, he went wild from there, tackling immeasurable goals and inspiring people worldwide along the way. After competing at the national and international levels, Matías made it his personal mission to grow the sport, starting in his home province of Tucumán.
However, realizing that he’d arrived a little late to the game to reach the podium in traditional competitions, Matías shifted toward open water and winter swimming. Eventually he established Unir el Mundo, an athletic and social project focused on swimming across five continents – without a wetsuit – while also promoting integration and inclusion through sports. Passionate about bringing people together, he hopes to inspire people to work for peace and environmental conservation.
Matías isn’t a stranger to superlatives. He was the first man to cross the Ventisquero Negro in Bariloche (at just 1.5ºC) without a wetsuit; he swam the entire length of the southern wall of the Perito Moreno Glacier in record time; he was the first Spanish-speaking swimmer to join the cold water team at the Meeting of the Sun project in Siberia. He was the first Argentine to swim Russia’s Lake Baikal – the largest, oldest, and deepest in the world. In 2013, he was the only South American invited to the Winter Swimming Association’s International Festival in China. He crossed the Beagle Channel in record time; he was the first man to swim around Ushuaia’s Faro del Fin del Mundo.
He made the Guinness Book of Records in Russia and Europe as the only Argentine to swim the 134 kilometers from Chukotka (Russia) to Alaska (United States). He also connected Asia and Europe as the first Argentine swim Turkey’s Bosporous Strait in extreme conditions. In 2015, Matías organized a historic, emblematic swim that solidified his role as a national icon of goodwill. Alongside English swimmer Jackie Cobell, he crossed the San Carlos Strait in the Malvinas in the name of “peace and friendship.”
Surprisingly, these accolades and accomplishments haven’t tired him out. Matías founded his own NGO, Swim Argentina, that pushes for the social inclusion of young people through swimming while raising awareness about the environment and taking care of our oceans. A nationwide calendar of events allows dozens of young people to take part thanks to scholarships that connect them to international swim competitions. As a plus, the organization also promotes Argentina as a tourist destination for those interested in open water swimming. Athletes the world over that visit the country are able to carry out swims across the Río de la Plata (the widest in the world, at 40 kilometers), an “Ice Mile” at the Perito Moreno Glacier, the Beagle Channel, and the Seven Lakes Challenge in Bariloche.
Perhaps saving the best for last, Matías has big plans after he conquers the English Channel. Next year, he will take on the Río de la Plata once again – this time, heading to Uruguay and back, swimming more than 100 kilometers in 35 hours. I don’t know about you, but something’s made me want to grab a pair of goggles and make a splash somewhere.