Penny Lee Dean is an American long distance swimmer began her career with her swim across frigid San Francisco bay at age 10. Later, as a swimmer for Pomona College, she was a six-time All-American. By 1976, she had swum from the mainland of California to Catalina Island in the overall world record of 7:15:55 - 1.5 hours under the former record, and a record that still stands. The next year she set the world record from the island to the mainland on her way to a 50-mile double crossing of the Catalina Channel in 20:03.
Dean is perhaps best known for her world record for the fastest swim across the English Channel in 1978 in a time of 7:40, shattering the previous record by over 1 h and 5 mins. The record stood for both men and women for until September 1995 when it was lowered to 7:17 by Chad Hundeby, whom she coached.
She continued her long distance swimming career for another three years, winning at Windermere in England, Lake St. John, LaTugue, Lakes Memphremagog and Paspebiac in Quebec, and Atlantic City in New Jersey, setting women's world records in most of them. She was Women's World Professional Champion in 1979 accumulating 1,000 points over her next rival. Dean served as U.S. National Team Coach of Open Water Swimming from 1988 through 1991, Head Coach of U.S. teams to the 1991 Pan Pacific Championships, 1991 World Championships, 1982 and 1990 Windermere Championships, 1990 English Channel Race, 1984 and 1989 Catalina Channel Race and coach of nine solo Catalina Channel crossers.
Dean was admitted to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1996.
Dean was forced to give up competition in the early 1980s, when her doctors urged her to stop all exercise as years of swimming had taken its toll on her body. Her enthusiasm for swimming carried on in her books and personal willingness to share her training methodologies. She has helped many other pool, open water, and marathon swimmers achieve their own personal goals. She taught as a Professor of physical education and the women’s swimming and water polo coach at Pomona College for over 25 years and now resides in Henderson, Nevada.
Dean was born without an anterior artery in her left arm, making her accomplishments all the more inspirational.