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Originally published September 21, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 21, 2005 at 4:48 PM

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Kirkland swimmer has long-distance dedication

The instructions were simple. Jamshid Khajavi had a mission to complete and didn't want anything interrupting his focus. So he jotted down...

Seattle Times staff reporter

The instructions were simple.

Jamshid Khajavi had a mission to complete and didn't want anything interrupting his focus. So he jotted down some rules for his observers to follow, like keeping comments positive and no questioning whether he was tired, cold or thirsty. Those are givens for an endurance swimmer.

With only a Speedo and goggles protecting him from the elements, Khajavi pulled his 5-foot-6 body between the massive strip of water separating Spain from Morocco, swallowing enough salt water en route to make his tongue and throat swell to twice their normal size.

After 3-½ hours swimming some 13 miles across the Strait of Gibraltar on Sept. 9, Khajavi's duty was complete. He had successfully made it across, landing on the rugged terrain of Punta Leona, Morocco, in record-setting time for an American. More important, he was able to sprinkle the ashes of his close friend, Michael Deblin, on both sides, a promise Khajavi made to himself when Deblin died from a brain tumor in June.

Deblin, a Canadian, planned to make the swim with Khajavi, of Kirkland, in August. But in January he learned of his illness and had to pull out; Khajavi, 52, stayed on track.

Khajavi wanted Deblin to be there, even if it was only in spirit, because Deblin had been there so many times for him.

When Khajavi swam the 21-mile Catalina Channel from Long Beach, Calif., to the Catalina Islands, Deblin kayaked beside him in the dark, making sure his friend was strong enough to swim for 20 hours. The last time they shared that experience, including dodging what they believed to be a great white shark, was in 2001.

Deblin was the only thought Khajavi let drift into his mind as his arms cut through icy water, fighting the rippling currents from dozen of tankers streaming through the strait. Khajavi, who paid about $1,500 in permits and boat rentals for the adventure, was flanked by two motorboats — one his support, the other an official observer — during the swim and stopped every 30 minutes for a brief water break. He wanted to swim the strait three times to hold the record of most crossings, but weather didn't permit it. Of the 131 people who have swum the strait since 1928, none has touched land on both sides more than once in a calendar year.

"You never know if you're going to make it or not," said Khajavi, also an ultramarathon runner. "You don't know the progress or where you are going. Mentally it's so draining, it's completely different from a 100-mile run. With a 100-mile run, you see the progress and you talk to other runners. It's an event. These swims are so monotonous, so lonely. From start to finish, it's all the same."

Deblin piqued Khajavi's interest in marathon running. He was strictly a swimmer before they became friends years ago, when Khajavi lived in San Diego. Now, the 100-mile races Khajavi enters yearly help mentally prepare him for the long swims.

Khajavi, who was born in Iran and immigrated to the United States 30 years ago, first swam the Strait of Gibraltar in 2003 with friend Jack Robertson, a paraplegic. Robertson introduced him to endurance swimming in 1978. Biking across the United States, swimming in exotic waters and testing his aging body through long runs were not part of Khajavi's plans while growing up.

"I wanted to be a bus driver," said Khajavi, who is a guidance counselor at Gatzert Elementary School in Seattle. "My mother [who is 86] would die if she knew some of the things I did. I took her to Catalina Island once, which is two hours by boat, and told her I swam it six times, four successfully. She screamed, 'Oh, that's so dangerous!' "


Intensely goal-oriented, Khajavi wants to swim the channel 10 times to set a record, and in 2007 he plans to return to Spain to hopefully swim the Strait three more times to be a record-holder there. To pass the time, he's scheduled to run at least 20 of the 100-mile races to establish a record, while skiing and biking to "keep in shape."

To prepare for his Gibraltar swim, Khajavi rose at 5:30 every morning to swim Lake Washington and biked the 22 miles from work to his home in Kirkland as training. To increase insulin and buoyancy in the expected choppy water, he increased his caloric intake, even eating food he hates, like nutty ice cream.

"I ate it almost every night, but I don't like ice cream," Khajavi said.

He spent 11 days in Spain making final preparations for the swim, and in his first attempt, after six hours of swimming, he was pulled out of the water, frustratingly close to his goal, because of nightfall. Windy days were spent watching the colorful kites and wind surfers or riding the 35-minute ferry across, although Khajavi was too nervous to fully enjoy the busy water full of leaping dolphins, tankers and whales.

A couple days later he swam across for himself and Deblin, making history with his time.

"I'm not fast at all, it was lucky," Khajavi said. "It's an amazing thing to swim between two continents. Nothing hard is so easy to accomplish."

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or

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