Solana Beach swim coach wins marathon Manhattan swim

The Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito’s Coach Grace Van der Byl, of the Rancho San Dieguito Swim Team, won the 31st annual Manhattan Island Marathon Swim recently.

Van der Byl, 35, completed the 28.5-mile counterclockwise course in 7 hours, 14 minutes 3 seconds. The first male finisher was Samir Barei, in 7:17:59.

“Gracie is such an amazing individual,” said Joe Benjamin, Pardee Aquatics Director at the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito. “Her mental toughness, work ethic and willingness to prepare for such extreme endeavors is truly amazing and such an inspiration to all of our young swimmers and masters swimmers alike.”

The NYC Swim organized event is the longest annual swim race in the world. The race began and finished at the South Cove in Battery Park City at the southern tip of Manhattan Island.

Van der Byl is a world-class open-water swimmer and national-level pool swimmer from Solana Beach. She also is the record holder for the Catalina Channel solo crossing, from Catalina Island to the California mainland, in 7 hours 27 minutes. She is also an active observer for the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation and was one of only two individuals (besides Rondi Davies) to finish all seven stage swims of the 2012 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim, the longest competitive open water swim in the world.

She also won the first 9.5-mile stage swim in Saguaro Lake, the second 9-mile stage swim in Canyon Lake, the third 17-mile stage swim in Apache Lake, and the fourth 10 km night race in Roosevelt Lake at the 2013 S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge in Arizona. She also won the 15.1-mile (24.3 km) inaugural Cape Circumnavigation Challenge around Cape May, N.J., in 2013.

Van der Byl started swimming at age 2 for the Green Gate Gators Swim Team in Spring, Texas. She started year-round swimming at age 7 for the Hub Fins Swim Team in Hattiesburg, Miss. Later she represented The Woodlands Swim Team and University of Houston at a national level.

After retiring, she coached for several teams in the Houston area. Upon moving to California, she became involved in the local swimming community and now coaches the Rancho San Dieguito swim team in Solana Beach at the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito. She swims for Solana Beach Swim Masters under Coach Joe Benjamin and supports a variety of open water swim-related causes and programs, including the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation.

Van der Byl is “a true ambassador for the sport of swimming with several local and national television appearances,” and enjoys investing in kids to develop the sport of open water swimming for a new generation.

After retiring from swimming for about 10 years, Van der Byl became involved with open water swimming and returned to master’s pool swimming, receiving five gold medals in Atlanta 2010. She has been competing in open water races since 2008 and increasingly became involved in the community through charity events like the Challenged Athletes Foundation, the NBC-sponsored Iron Man program for cancer survivors, and the Mates-Helping-Mates event for victims of the Australian wildfires.

She also dedicates her time to grass-roots program development and introduced an age-group program for kids to compete in an all-season open-water swimming championship. Her dedication to the sport earned her the coach of the year award in San Diego.

She is married to renowned ocean kayaker and escort crew member Neil Van der Byl and co-manages the SoCal Open-Water Swim Support service.