James and Jonathan diDonato, sons of a free-lance TV commercial artist, learned to dog-paddle near their native Wantagh, Long Island and grew up liking to butterfly long distances. In 1976 they even moved to Florida so they could do just that all year round. In 1980 they butterflied 10 miles in the Atlantic, probably a record. This April they went 15 miles in a pool (1,080 laps), probably another record. So the only fear they had, after nearly a half decade in the limpid 85° water off Fort Lauderdale, was the frigid Channel, where temperatures average 59°.
Rightly so. "Our stroke felt perfect," recalls Jonathan (younger by five minutes) of their early morning start from Dover's Shakespeare Beach. But two miles and 75 minutes toward their landfall, Cap Gris-Nez, the cold had struck. Says Jonathan, "I couldn't hold my jaw in place. And James was gray. I thought, 'Gee, he looks like he's going to die.' " The doctor on the pilot ship ordered them out. Poor little butterflies.
No, it wasn't a samurai spin-off of Flamingo Road. What it was flexing on a Dover beach was the 27-year-old diDonato twins, who'd come all the way from Fort Lauderdale to Great Britain not to witness the Wedding but to swim into the Guinness Book of World Records by way of the English Channel. Of course, that 20.5-mile crossing has already been made some 222 times in the past century by swimmers as young as 12 and as old as 58. But never by identical twins. Who are vegetarians. Using the butterfly stroke.