Hotz has been doing the marathon ocean-swimming event since age 8 in 1970. Last year would have been her 40th time participating, but she had to postpone it due to her surgery.
“There’s no way I was going to stop doing the Rough Water Swim,” Hotz said, though she admitted to allowing herself one concession this year.
“I just did the one-mile swim,” she said. “I didn’t think I was up for the three-mile (Gatorman).”
She intends to do both next year.
Hotz, along with her siblings, grew up on Loring Street in Pacific Beach. Her brother, Don, said the family has always had a kinship with everything aquatic.
“We’re a big swimming family,” he said, adding it was hard not to be when you’re born and raised a couple of blocks from the ocean.
“It was imperative that we all learned to swim in the ocean,” he said. Don became a surfer while Diane, now an Ocean Beach resident, went on to become a student, and then teacher, of oceanography. She even went so far as to do underwater research on great white sharks off South Africa, working in a shark cage about 10 years ago.
Participating in the Rough Water Swim is a family tradition, Don Hotz said — one that obviously had extra-special significance this year for Diane.
“One of the things they give you when you get out of the water after the swim is a survivor medal,” he said. “I thought that was kind of pertinent given she’s just survived a very serious bout of breast cancer. It meant a little extra to her when she got that survivor medal this time.”
Asked whether her participation in this year’s swim felt extraordinary, Diane said simply, “It was,” particularly given that she had to overcome a physical disability from the surgery to compete at all.
“It was hard this year to get my strength back,” she said. “They had to take a muscle out of my back to create a new breast and my whole left side is kind of numb. They told me I was going to lose strength in my arm. I had to build back up my other muscles to cope with the lack of a back muscle.”
Undaunted, Hotz was determined to make it back to compete in her 40th Rough Water Swim.
“I was kind of taking a stride every year and this year was more important because of what I’ve gone through with breast cancer and coming back from major surgery,” she said. “It made it more meaningful.”
After all, Hotz said, exercise is therapeutic.
“Don’t be afraid of trying something new just because you have a disease or have had surgery to recover from,” she advised others in a similar situation. “The more exercise you can get, the faster the healing process is. Stay with what you usually do and don’t back down on things.”
Hotz’s experience overcoming adversity has been an inspiration to her family and friends.
“In August 2011 she underwent breast reconstruction and had to miss her 40th swim in September 2011 but got back into the water in January 2012 and began swimming 1,500 to 3,500 yards getting ready to swim her 40th Rough Water Swim at the 82nd La Jolla Rough Water Swim,” said Don Hotz’s wife, Meg Halaska. “Diane also swam with a group one summer, swimming two to three miles per workout, working their way from Ocean Beach up to Oceanside. Wherever they stopped one week, would be where they started the next. She would like to do this again.”
“She is an inspiration to everyone,” said Diane’s sister Karen, who lives in Sacramento. “She’s awesome.”
Hotz has a new goal in mind.
“Next year will be my 41st Rough Water Swim, heading, hopefully, to 50,” she said.