Chilean teenager sets two new records in Gibraltar crossing

The young South American athlete now plans to tackle the Strait of Magellan and the English Channel.

Milenka Rojas

At just 17 years of age, Chilean long distance swimmer Milenka Rojas has eclipsed two records in a spectacular crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar.

Finishing the swim in just two hours and 49 minutes, the teenage athlete became the youngest and fastest woman to complete the nine mile (15km) water route between Europe and Africa.

The previous age record was held by US swimmer Mary Louise Stepan Kiernan who was 22 when she swam between the two continents. Before Rojas’ record-breaking attempt, the fastest woman to swim across the strait was Australian Penelope Palfrey, who took three hours and three minutes to reach Africa when she was 47.

Setting out from the town of Tarifa on Spain’s southern coast, Rojas planned to swim to Morocco before completing the return journey to Europe. But according to Spanish newspaper EuropaSur, officials from the Gibraltar Strait Swimming Association (ACNEG) advised her to stop midway through the return leg due to strong currents.

“The weather was very good and I was making good time,” Rojas told La Tercera. “In fact, I could see the beach. But they stopped me and told me that I couldn’t continue. I felt angry and asked them how I could stop there.”

Despite the setback Rojas said she was happy with her record-breaking achievement.

“It felt really bad when I finished but I had some massages and then I felt really good again,” she said.

The young swimmer who has affectionately been dubbed “La Sirenita” (The Little Mermaid), is from Licán Ray, a popular tourist town on the shores of Lake Calafquén in Chile’s 11th Region.

In her final year of high school, Rojas has already swum across Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and now has the Strait of Magellan and the English Channel set firmly in her sights.

This post is also available in Spanish