BARRINGTON – Barrington resident Doug McConnell has come a long way from his high school and college swimming days.
Having already successfully swum the Catalina Channel and English Channel, McConnell will attempt the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim on Saturday. The 56-year-old has estimated the 28.5-mile swim will take him about nine hours. Luckily, he said, two legs of the race are downstream, or have a tide push, to help him along.
“The Triple Crown was never really a goal,” he said. “But it is a milestone and it’s a fun thing along the way.”
McConnell began preparing for the swim this past winter, swimming about 20 miles each week over six days.
“I took Mondays off,” he said. “Monday is my weekend.”
Once the lakes started opening up, he started swimming outside. He’s been swimming outdoors for about a month now – without a wetsuit. When he started swimming in the area, the water temperature was about 53 degrees. He anticipates the waters in the Manhattan Island swim will be in the mid- to high 60s. To put it into perspective, most backyard pools sit at about 84 or 85 degrees.
“It’s going to be really different from our other (swims),” McConnell said. “Just being in an urban city, there are actually going to be things to look at… I won’t be sightseeing, but the activity will be different.”
Serving as his guide and kayaking alongside McConnell will be Barrington resident Don Macdonald, with whom he has been swimming for years.
After the weather prohibited Macdonald from completing the English Channel swim when McConnell did, he signed up to make an attempt last summer. He trained both in and out of the pool, swimming and regularly running. Following a run, he collapsed just outside of his home from a cardiac arrhythmia. Luckily for him, a neighbor who happened to be a former nurse saw what happened and rushed to his aid until paramedics arrived.
Macdonald had to have a pacemaker and although he is back to exercising through lower-level exercise like biking and walking, swimming is not recommended in case he has another cardiac attack. He has been out kayaking since March, preparing for the Manhattan Island race with McConnell.
“My role in helping him is to keep him safe,” Macdonald said, but adding it is an emotional hurdle in that he really wants to be in the water, swimming himself. “With a little luck and possibly some new technology… Maybe I’ll be able to get back in the water.”
Macdonald believes his open water swimming has helped him accept his current situation.
“At the end of the day, you just have to accept the situation,” he said. “… You just have to figure out a way to endure and keep going.”
McConnell said it was difficult for both himself and Macdonald to hear that, for the time being, Macdonald couldn’t return to the water. He called Macdonald a tremendous swimmer, who will be a great asset to helping McConnell have a successful swim.
It was while Macdonald was still in the hospital that he realized he could still participate in the race by serving as a kayaker.
“That son-of-a-gun ordered a kayak from his hospital bed,” McConnell said. “To have somebody with his experience and knowledge to be a kayaker in this thing, it’s like a secret weapon.”
The various swims have also served as fundraising opportunities. More than $230,000 has been raised so far and donated to the Les Turner ALS Foundation. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, took the life of McConnell’s father, David, in 2006.
“ALS hit me because there is no cure,” McConnell said. “… You just go through years of cascading frustration and powerlessness over watching someone you love go through this.”
McConnell’s father was diagnosed with the disease in 1994, but fought it for 12 years, giving McConnell’s children a chance to get to know their grandfather before he died, something that was a blessing to McConnell.
“(My dad) has really served as the main man on this team,” McConnell said, adding it is a bit funny though because his father was very outspoken about how boring he thought the sport of swimming was.