After two years’ work, in a few days the Spanish translation of my book, The Forever Swim, will be available for purchase online and in bookstores. The original English version will be out in a few weeks as well. I hope that those who give it a chance enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
The idea of writing a book about the Oceans Seven was born shortly after I completed the last of the seven swims—the North Channel—in August 2017. Not long after reaching the Scottish shore, I received a message from former President Ernesto Zedillo, who wished to congratulate me. He wrote that he wanted to celebrate my achievement and asked me to propose a couple of dates so that we could get together upon my return.
We agreed to have dinner at the house of my brother Raúl and his wife Beatriz with Miguel Limón, Carlos Mancera, and Marco Provencio. It was a pleasant evening, and I felt very happy to be able to share everything I was experiencing with people who meant so much to me. At some point, Zedillo suggested that I write a book that might serve as the basis for my talks. I didn’t respond with much enthusiasm because I knew that writing a book required hours and hours in front of a computer which, given my workload, I just didn’t have.
When we said our goodbyes, he mentioned it again: “Don’t dismiss the idea of writing a book; find a way to do it.” That “find a way to do it” led me to look for a ghostwriter who could listen to me and put the story on paper. In October of that year I contacted Adam Skolnick, the reporter of The New York Times who had written an article about my North Channel crossing. He agreed to my proposal of writing the book together and, in January 2018, he visited Mexico City to start the interviews.
The first decision we had to make was the type of book we wanted. From the outset, I knew I didn’t want a self-help book or a book that approached swimming from a perspective of success and power. Perhaps the political moment Mexico was going through made me think that if López Obrador won, which did happen, it was possible that the country I had helped build would radically change.
We talked it over—my memories of Life in Mexico, the extraordinary book by Madame Calderón de la Barca were very useful—and, gradually, our idea began taking shape. We set out to write a book that told the story of my life while linking the history of the Mexico I experienced with the lessons I learned from each of the Oceans Seven swims. Once we had decided the direction we would take, we met first in Mexico City and then in Malibu, California, where Adam interviewed me for several hours.
The stories—the ones I told him and the ones he heard from people close to me—started flowing and, by April, we already had enough material. We agreed that he would turn in the manuscript in late August or early September. However, a month later he wrote to tell me that he had just been offered a contract that would take him three to four months to complete. I understood the situation, and so we agreed another delivery date at the end of the year.
With the manuscript ready, Franco Bavoni started editing and translating the book into Spanish and, by March, we started thinking about the cover. As a photography lover, I had always wanted a portrait of me by Annie Lebowitz and thought this was the perfect moment. Karina López, who coordinated the project, made an inquiry and a few days later they replied that they would gladly send us a quote. However, they also asked whether we would be willing to consider a six-figure sum. We thanked them and decided to look for another option.
After several emails and phone calls, we agreed that Mark Seliger would take the cover photo. In a visit I made to New York in March, we met at his studio. I never imagined the effect this meeting would have on the final design of the book. Saying out loud what I expected from the picture was an important step. I explained to Mark that I wanted a portrait that showed how I feel when I am at sea: small, almost insignificant.
At the end of our talk, he asked me about the designers of the book, since he was interested in talking to them. In none of my previous editorial projects had I thought about design and, when he asked me the question, I could only say that I would make some calls. When I left, I called Karina with the news that we needed a designer, and that’s how I found Chris Hill.
Chris had worked with Karina before and agreed to meet us at his office in Houston. We spent a day talking about the book, my swims, my expectations, and the conversation I’d had with Mark Seliger regarding the picture I wanted. He asked us for a few weeks to present some ideas.
In mid-April we received the proposal for both the cover and the interior of the book, and I immediately loved the design. Using the photograph that my nephew Pablo Argüelles had taken with a drone in Cook Strait helped create the desired effect: to show the immensity of the ocean and how small I am—we all are—in the face of nature.
Seliger’s picture was left over, but now we had two additional problems: we needed a high- resolution photograph with the drone and another of my face. The first of them was Pablo’s responsibility. We agreed on a date and, together with Rafa, my coach, we went to Acapulco to take photos in Puerto Marqués at dawn. After almost three hours, we got the picture we were looking for.
The second image we needed would involve meeting María Paula Martínez. In addition to the daughter of a dear friend of Lucía and mine, María Paula is a great photographer. I’d seen her work but had not yet had a chance to meet her in person. I contacted her while she was in Armenia and, upon her return, we made an appointment to talk about the portrait.
María Paula is an artist whose work covers from the depths of the ocean to the skies of the Earth. Given her underwater photography skills, I suggested that she try to take a picture of me while swimming. My first option was to do the photoshoot in La Jolla, so she came along with me to one of my training sessions. However, the weather didn’t help, and we didn’t get the picture we wanted.
After that experience, we considered the Caribbean, but I didn’t like the idea so much because I had never swum there. Finally, we went for another option that was closer to us: Las Estacas. As in Acapulco, the session lasted three hours. Once we had the cover and back cover photos, Chris designed the final version that appears on the book.
The text went through a more arduous path. After a few rounds of editing, Franco began translating the manuscript into Spanish, which was a useful process to improve the original text in English and make all kinds of adjustments. The Spanish version acquired a life of its own, especially because it allowed us to recover certain aspects of Mexican idiosyncrasy that can hardly be expressed in English. Of course, we also had to make sure the data was consistent. In this area there were two categories: the “real events” and the “facts according to Toño”.
In the first case, that of the “real events”, I asked Mauricio Tenorio, a History professor at The University of Chicago, for help. He kindly agreed to read the manuscript. Mauricio did not only make useful comments with regards to historical accuracy; he also pointed out some passages that lacked precision.
As for the “facts according to Toño”, I asked my brothers to review the chapters in which they were involved; Ximena and Lucía read the entire manuscript. Lucía returned with two comments. One was positive—she liked the text—and the other negative—the story of our first meeting was the result of my imagination and Adam’s.
Ximena, who is a lawyer, made a few comments from a legal point of view, but told me something that made me happy: “Dad, I just landed in New York on my way to Boston. I read the manuscript during the flight and, although I know the stories, because I have listened to them all my life, I laughed and cried when I saw them on paper. Your book will be successful.” Of course, readers will have the last word.