Staff with Unusual Hobbies: Jaime Gener Swims across Straits

Imagine swimming several kilometers against tidal currents. Well, Jaime Gener thinks essentially anyone could do it. This 62-year-old Linde Material Handling employee has an unusual hobby: open water swimming. Here he tells us why technique is so important out at sea, and how crucial a team can be.

Three men are swimming towards a steep cliff. The cliff looks fairly nondescript, yet as the swimmers approach, all three are filled with indescribable emotion. It has taken them five hours to reach this cliff on the African side of the Strait of Gibraltar. Jaime Gener, Managing Director Linde Material Handling Spain, together with his two colleagues, has swum approximately 24 kilometers through the sea. Gener was 55 years old when he achieved this feat, six years after taking up swimming again. “I did it to keep myself fit,” he says. Then one day his trainer asked him: “How about long-distance swimming? Would you want to swim across the Strait of Gibraltar?”

Long-distance or open-water swimming is a completely unique type of swimming. You put yourself at the mercy of the wind, the waves, and the elements—and you only have a rough idea beforehand of how long the crossing will take—since so many factors are uncertain. Yet nevertheless, or perhaps for these very reasons, it’s a very special experience: “When I’m training in the pool, I get bored after four or five kilometers,” says Gener. “In the sea, everything falls away—the tiredness, the pain. You just swim. I sometimes feel as if I am floating in heaven.”

Long-distance Swimming: Winter Training Calls For Determination

Gener grew up near a lake, and he was an enthusiastic swimmer from an early age, but at some point he turned to other sports. Inline hockey, skiing, football. He only started swimming again at the age of 48. By that point, he was already Managing Director at Linde Material Handling. Training for his big swim called for discipline: He was in the pool at 6:00 a.m. every day, and then at his desk by 7:45 a.m, even in the winter. “Barcelona is warmer than many other places in winter—but it still takes a lot of determination to get in the water when it is only six degrees outside,” he remarks.

But there was no choice, if he really wanted to swim the Straits: training is absolutely crucial. At the start, his colleagues would joke that he must be mad to want to attempt such a thing. “It’s not mad, but it is also not nearly as impressive as some people think.” Gener believes that, in theory, almost anyone could swim those 24 kilometers: “You need training, determination, and discipline,” he says. “Some might need to train for longer, some might swim more slowly—but all of us are capable of achieving more than we often tell ourselves.” He says that at sea, power is less crucial than technique. “A good swimming technique allows you to swim efficiently and save energy, and that’s what matters.”

“Teamwork Is Everything.” - in business and long-distance open-water swimming

Gener explains that much of what he has learned from swimming can actually be transferred to the world of work. “Teamwork is everything,” he says—and by this he means both his swimming teammates and his Linde Material Handling team in Spain. Gener started his career with the KION Group as a subsidiary director at Linde Material Handling, and since 2012, he has been Managing Director for Spain. The logistics sector has undergone a complete transformation in recent decades, he says: “We used to simply sell forklift trucks, but now it’s about comprehensive customer solutions instead.” He says his Spanish team are great, and their positive customer feedback confirms it.

Whether he’s in the water or at work, Gener is a real team player. What he particularly likes about swimming with others is that everyone is there for each other and supports one another: “For example, you can swim in other people’s slipstream,” he explains. “A bit like in cycling. The swimmer in front cuts through the current, and that helps those following, if they are close behind.” The strong currents at sea can make it feel as if you are not making any progress, especially as there are no visual points of reference. As such, crossing the Strait of Gibraltar called for real determination: “The first eight kilometers were especially tough, they were entirely against the current,” Gener reports.

Long-distance swimming in the sea: Careful preparation and self-confidence is needed

And this is another lesson that can be transferred to the workplace: Sometimes you can be too quick to assume that you can handle a situation, because it seems similar to one you have dealt with in the past. “But you then realize that you haven’t done your homework. If you haven’t prepared, you won’t achieve your goals.” And Gener says it is the same on the high seas. You can’t predict exactly what nature will do. And if you are going to be swimming for several hours, you can never be sure whether a storm might blow up along the way. “That can be really dangerous,” says Gener. “People often ask me if I am afraid of sharks. I have never encountered a shark, but lightning could be fatal.” In this case, the accompanying support boat would rescue the swimmers from the water. The boat is also part of the team: Every 45 minutes, the swimmers are given a nutrient drink. “However, you’re not allowed to hold on, even for a second,” explains Gener.

Problems En Route to Capri

The 62-year-old still trains two or three times a week, but doesn’t have a new goal in mind. After he had crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, he then conquered a couple of other routes. For example, to the island of El Hierro in the Canary Islands, and 40 kilometers across the Gulf of Naples to Capri. However, on the crossing to Capri in particular, a previous change in the make-up of the team caused some major issues. “It was very complicated, we didn’t have the same rhythm,” says Gener. Which just goes to show how important team cohesion is for important projects. He would love to persuade his old team to swim together again. Until then, he is training solo. “Luckily, it’s easy to do this here on the Costa Brava, there are specially marked-out areas for long-distance swimmers.”

Open Water Swimming

According to the sport’s official regulations, open water swimming is a discipline with a minimum event length of five kilometers. The crossing of sea straits is a special category. It even features a special challenge, the “Ocean’s Seven,” for which swimmers must conquer seven sea straits on five different continents. However, only 21 people worldwide have succeeded.

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