Thursday, July 3, 2014

When the Success of a Project Becomes Part of Your Identity

Being on the crew for Doug McConnell’s A Long Swim and preparing for any of his open water challenges is a commitment.  It means stepping out of your comfort zone. It means training and cross training till you have everything down so cold that you can play your role in the pitch black, while on the water, because sometimes that’s what you have to do.  It means that you work so hard and for so long that all of this becomes part of your identity. 

In the beginning, our crew had a meager start.  When Doug decided to tackle these open water swimming challenges, I quickly learned that most swimmers kind of leave their families behind and they take on other swimmers to be their crew.  Having four kids, I didn’t look forward to that  and so I made a proposal that would be a condition of my acceptance of my husband’s goals.  “If you want to do this, and you think you can do this, you should.  And my condition is that you include our kids rather than exclude them.  They will be your crew.”   Doug loved that idea and together we trained them and cross-trained them and they are one of the most highly trained and efficient open water swimming crew in the world.  They know how to help their swimmer get it done and our success proves that.  This success is part of their identity. 

As time has gone on, our crew has grown in ways that we didn’t expect. Our friends and new people have joined our team.

  •                Doug’s swimming friend and open water swimming partner, Don Macdonald, kayaked around the Island of Manhattan staying very close to Doug, being his swim coach, his navigator and his protector.  Don, an accomplished open water swimmer himself, had heart issues in 2013 that nearly ended his life.  When his doctor told him that his open water swimming career was over, he immediately informed Doug that he would be his kayaker and he ordered his new kayak from his hospital bed.  He never skipped a beat.
  •           My great friend, Meghan O’Doherty, has stepped up to be the Project Manager for this swim as well as previous swims.  She is an organizer and a doer like no other.  She’s been known to set a boat pilot or two straight.  In the English Channel she told our boat pilot to cut it with his English accent, because Doug was having a hard time understanding him.  I don’t think I’d go toe-to-toe with a big guy in the middle of nowhere on a dark ocean, but Meghan did.  Our boat pilot?  He made a valiant attempt to speak our language. 
  •           Bob Lee has been a fountain of wealth in the fundraising department and Bob, at the age of 72, brought his bicycle to New York and circumnavigated the Island, always staying a step ahead of us and always showing up at the right time to cheer Doug on, and he was traveling alone.  Bob has raised over $1 million for charity with his bike rides circumnavigating the United States and Bob has helped Doug raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for ALS research.  He’s become a great friend and has been like a father to us. 
  •       Peter Yankala of Phillips Men’s Wear jumped on the team this time, using his marketing know-how to bring attention to the swim and bring in donations in clever and fun ways.  He surprised us by designing the coolest open water team shirts I’ve ever seen.  Ours are even nicer than the fanciest teams from Japan or Ireland.  And then to top it off, he gave away tee shirts in return for donations to our charity, the Les Turner ALS Foundation.  He’s also planned a welcome home party for Doug with an open invitation to the whole town of Barrington. 
  •          Manning, Selvage and Lee, the 4th largest strategic communications agency in the world, whose beginnings took hold at the helm of Morris Lee, Bob Lee’s Father, brought us in to their offices in New York after examining our websites and social media.  “You need help with Twitter so you can reach a new audience,” they decided.  So in a room full of 20 somethings they said this, “All you guys, you’re not supposed to work on Saturdays, but you’re working really hard this Saturday.  We’re putting Allison, our intern, in a car with GPS and she will literally follow Doug’s swim and report on twitter.  And the rest of you, we want you to push it like hell won’t have it.”  I understand our new twitter feed #alongswim1 was on fire. 
  •           Countless friends have decided to follow us along on these swims, renting hotel rooms and cheering Doug on.  In Catalina our escort boat was a huge fishing boat and everyone took turns kayaking for Doug.  In New York they rented car services and used GPS to track our boat and follow along.  The camaraderie, the support and the celebration when the swims are finished is simply awesome. 
Preparing for the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (MIMS), the last leg of the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming, after crossing the English Channel and the Catalina Channel, was nothing short of exciting.  This swim is one of the world’s most popular marathon swims, although to qualify for and to be accepted for this swim is quite difficult. The extraordinary 28.5 mile circumnavigation swim around Manhattan Island never fails to challenge and excite its competitors and its followers. 
Finishing this swim was the ultimate.  After 9-l/2 hours of counting strokes, navigating waterways and currents, communicating with boat captains and kayakers and swimmers, whether on boat or on land, virtual or in person, we all held our breaths, watched our swimmer finish and cheered like crazy, being very, very aware of what had just happened.  As a team, we had just accomplished what countless numbers of open water swimmers and teams around the world attempt and we had become part of a small elite group who achieved the goal of the very coveted Open Water Swimming’s Triple Crown.  Now this is definitely part of our identity, forever.   
People have been asking if Doug is going to do another swim and right now he’s tired and sore while attempting reentry at real life.  I happen to have a lot of influence over him my thought is that it may be unethical not to attempt another swim.  If he can raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a research team at Northwestern that is making headway toward eliminating ALS, how can he stop?  With his help that same research team found the cause of ALS.  With his help they may find the cure. 
So I suppose this may be more than just part of our identity.  This may be part of our future. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Into The Perfect Storm

Here comes the 70th anniversary of Lou Gehrig's famous speech announcing that he was leaving baseball because he had ALS.  Here comes Doug to throw out  the first pitch on June 26th at the Cub's game at Wrigley Field.  The famous speech was made at Yankee Stadium, where a game will be in action as Doug swims past on June 28th, in the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, as he raises money for ALS/Lou Gehrig's Disease.  

The perfect storm?  You bet.  To donate please visit A Long Swim.  

As this all happens, watch our Facebook pages as I report live with photos and videos.  Stay with us, this is really going to be something.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bagpipes at Dawn?

The story behind the photograph:  

The guy on the bagpipes is Greg Elliott, captain of the pilot boat Bottom Scratcher, one of the two escorts boats for swimmers who want to cross the Catalina Channel.   

His boat has aided the majority of the approximately 250 swimmers who have crossed.  One of the many reasons that his boat is the favored is because, if your swim is going well, he comes to the deck at sunrise and plays his bagpipes.  The Catalina Channel swim begins at midnight from Catalina Island, so by the time the sun rises the crew, and the swimmer, are ready for a lift and this certainly hits the spot.  I remember Doug asking Greg if he took requests, and so on this morning he played "Scotland the Brave."  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Catalina Channel Photographs

As we get ready to head to New York to swim the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, I've had the chance to review the photographs from the last big swim, the Catalina Channel.  Here are the best ones along with some fun shots of the crew ...

Monday, June 16, 2014

A New Sponsor of A Long Swim Team - Phillips Men's Wear in Barrington, Illinois

To be able to swim around the Island of Manhattan, you need to be able to swim in pretty cold water.  Training in Lake Michigan is perfect for that, since on this day the water was 57 degrees close to shore, 53 once the guys got out there.  Thanks to Phillips Men's Wear of Barrington, Illinois for sponsoring the team with high tech gear to help the guys stay warm after those cold training swims.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Dear Vineyard Vines ... "We need a jellyfish tie!"

Dear Ian and Shep of Vineyard Vines, 

Our family goes to Martha’s Vineyard in the summer so that’s how we know about Vineyard Vines.  My husband and 3 boys have quite a collection of your ties.

Here’s my idea:

My husband, Doug McConnell, is an awesome open water swimmer.  He swam the English Channel and the Catalina Channel and he is about to swim around the Island of Manhattan in the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim on June 28, 2014.  Once he finishes this swim around the Island of Manhattan, he will have achieved the coveted Triple Crown in open water swimming.  Only 83 people have ever achieved this, and only 15 of them have achieved it over the age of 50.  My guy is 56.  Rare air.  

Open water swimming is historically done in salt water where jellyfish are a big part of the swim.  (They also frequent the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard.)  

You guys need a jellyfish tie.  That’s where my idea comes in.

Can my husband be your spokesman for your jellyfish tie? Can you feature him and open water swimming in your magazine to promote your new jellyfish tie?  

My husband is kind of a hero because when he swims his open water challenges he raises money for the Les Turner ALS Foundation. (  They’re a pretty big deal in Chicago and Chicago is where you just opened your new store!  (We live most of the year in Barrington, Illinois, right outside of Chicago.)  

He has raised over $200,000 with his open water swims and the amount is headed up as we get ready to head to New York for this next challenge.

You can learn about my husband and his open water swims here  

And you can learn more about him on my funny blog about his open water swimming here

Here is a website all about jellyfish:

And here is a link to an article about jellyfish that my husband wrote for them:

Here are some fun facts about open water swimming and jellyfish:  

  • Since NBC televised the 10K (6 miles, considered a marathon swim, because it takes about two hours for the top swimmers) from the Beijing Olympics in 2008, 16 million people have done an open water swim.
  • In the US, during those same years, the number of dedicated open water swims has jumped from 200 to more than 900. 
  • Many people believe that OWS is the fastest growing endurance sport in the country.
  • Chicago's premier OWS, Big Shoulders, now limits participation to 1,200 swimmers; it sold out in 38 days between March 1st and April 8th this year.
  • Every marathon swimmer who swims in salt water is MUCH more focused on jellyfish than they are on sharks.  
  • There are something like 250 different jellyfish species in the world. 
  • Some don't sting at all, others (Portuguese Man 'o War and Box Jellyfish) are among the most venomous creatures on earth.
  • Swimmers say that the prettier the jellyfish are the more they hurt.
  • Some are as small as coins, others are bigger than garbage can lids and have tails that can be several meters long. 
OK, quite a challenge, but I know you can do it.  And I know that every open water swimmer around the world will want to buy one of your jellyfish ties! 

You guys are the best!  

My Bionic Boyfriend's Girlfriend

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Lost at Sea has been lost at sea and now is found.  This blog was literally folded in the waves of Google and it took heaven and earth to get it back.  Welcome Home! 

Monday, December 3, 2012

He'll Take Longer Than The Time He's Been Given and Will Apologize Later

Doug will speak to hundreds of people from all over the world this morning in Chicago on behalf of A Long Swim and the Les Turner ALS Foundation on the formula of taking an audacious goal and using it to raise funds for a cause.  Here he is practicing on our back porch last night.  I took this photograph from outside, he didn't know I was there.  He practiced for over an hour, until he got it right.  The day will be full of speakers, and Doug has been given 20 minutes.  He'll take longer, I know, and will apologize later.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Catalina Channel Complete With Bagpipes

Catalina Here We Come ... 

Starting Wednesday, September 26th at 10:00PM Doug will begin his swim of the Catalina Channel off the coast of Santa Catalina Island.  21 miles in 60 degree water that gets up to 3,000 feet deep with 5 foot swells that originate off the coast of Hawaii.  There are jellyfish, as there are in the English Channel, but this channel is also home to seals (can’t wait to get pictures) and sharks (can certainly wait to get pictures).  

It takes a year to secure your reservation for this marathon swim that 260 people have successfully completed, the first being George Young in 1927. 

Our boat pilot is one of only two who are certified by the Catalina Channel Federation; Greg Elliott and his boat Bottom Scratcher.  Word has it that early in the morning as the sun comes up Greg belts out a set on his bag pipes.  Here’s a picture of Greg doing this thing ... 

Doug crewed on this swim a couple of months ago for his friend, Goody Tyler.  Goody's swim was not successful and that experience was one that made Doug postpone this swim so that he could train more extensively.  Here is a really good picture that Doug took and texted to me early in the morning of Goody's swim:  

And here's a picture of Doug with Goody taken aboard the pilot boat ... 

The Crew This Time ... 

The crew this time will consist of a few of Doug’s swimming friends and our oldest son, Mack.  Mack, who lives in San Francisco, is also an accomplished swimmer.  He did, however, miss the English Channel swim by one flight, since the boat left earlier than expected, so this will be a nice pay back for him. Here's one of my favorite pictures of Mack taken on the beach of Wissant Bay in France ...

Missing Meg ... 

Missing will be my good friend and project manager extraordinnaire Meg, who has accompanied us on ALL of our previous swims.  She should really think about leasing herself out for managing these marathon events.  With the school year in play, and after losing time to the Chicago teacher’s strike, she’s going to sit this one out.  I’m going to miss her every single moment and I’m hoping that the Megalodon doesn’t come up from those 3,000 foot depths looking for my Meg. 

Here's my Meg crewing for the 24 Mile Tampa Bay Marathon Swim ... (with Gordy McConnell)

And here she is crewing on the English Channel ... (with Bill McConnell) 

 How To Watch and Get Information ... 

I’ll be reporting, and this is important, in real time on Doug’s personal Facebook page and my personal Facebook page.  So make sure you are “friends” with us.  When I reported from the English Channel the signal was weak and I found this the most efficient way to get things done.  I’ll include pictures and videos taken with my trusty iPhone.  Don’t forget we are two hours behind most of you. 

Once the swim is done I’ll get all of the photographs up on the Facebook pages for A Long Swim and My Bionic Boyfriend.  Here are links to those: 

A Long Swim's Facebook Page

Follow along on Doug's Spot Link which will update the map every 10 minutes:

Doug's Really Cool Spot Link

Oh, and the most important part, Doug is doing all of this in the name of his Dad, Dr. David McConnell, who died from ALS.  Doug has raised almost $200,000 so far for the Les Turner ALS Foundation.  Donations may be made on Doug’s site

Good Luck Doug!  We are proud of you!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Bob Lee Rides Again (and stops over to say goodbye)

As he prepares to leave, tomorrow, on the third leg of his quest to circumnavigate the perimeter of the United States, Bob Lee stopped by to say goodbye to Doug.  We were actually just getting ready to head over to his house to say goodbye to him.  Bob and Doug share something very different in common.  They're both attempting uncommon feats as they raise funds and awareness for the Les Turner ALS Foundation.  Bob and Doug are both members of the Les Turner board, and they further tune their efforts as they drive to their board meetings together.  And through Bob's mentoring he and his inspiring wife, Anne, have become great, great friends of ours.

While I have always felt like I volunteered my photography for causes, Bob came along and quietly nudged me to bump it up more than a notch.  I didn't even feel it happening and the next thing I knew I was everywhere with my camera and he was right there, quietly nudging more and more.  For his cause, Ride For Three Reasons, I have been there nonstop.  And during the next two months, as Bob rides his bike from Vancouver to Tijuana, I'll be writing some more about my friend and I promise some surprising and moving stories about his wife, Anne, who I want to be just like when I grow up.  And, believe me, I'm not alone.  Stay tuned.

Watch Bob's progress on his blog ...

And PLEASE like his facebook page to show him the love while he's on the road ...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Fun English Channel Photo/Video Essay

As Doug celebrates the one year anniversary of his English Channel swim, what I remember is this ... there were times when things weren't so pretty and during those times I was holding on for dear life rather than using my camera.  The swells were sometimes 5 feet and coming from all directions.  The last half of the swim was in the pitch dark so I don't have any photographs for that segment either.  (I do have some video, however, some of which I'll add here.)   In all I took about 400 photographs.  For an event of this magnitude I would normally take over 1,000.  

This is a photo/video essay of some of the moments I captured from the English Channel ... some you've seen and some you haven't ...

Here is Doug recapping his swim a few days after he had a whole lot of sleep ... Ashley took this video while she froze inside Dover Harbor ...

During the swim, pretty much a few of the kids were sick most of the time ... 

And one was happy-go-lucky and on deck the whole time ... 

Our boat captains were Lance Oram, who grew up taking swimmers across with his father, Mike Oram, and Chris Streeter, the famous Alison Streeter's uncle, the same Alison Streeter who has crossed the English Channel 46 times.  These guys were characters but when the going got tough they didn't fool around.    

This picture makes it look like it was all fun and games ... and at this moment, when we first took off, it was. The White Cliffs of Dover are in the background.  I was using a little Fuji camera that also took video and also worked under water.  All of the video from this event was taken with this little camera.  

Here's the crew goofing around ... 

Here is a video of Doug swimming in rough water while the boat captains were listening to music and enjoying themselves ... 

Here is a video that I took from the galley of the pilot boat.  I had to brace myself with my legs and hold on tight.  The noise you hear is from the bilge, it's not someone screaming.  

Here is a video where you can see Doug's night goggles in the pitch darkness of the English Channel.  

Once darkness hit, once he landed, once he reached our pilot boat, I didn't take one photograph.  It just didn't seem right.  But I did take some photographs as the sun rose as we headed back to Dover Harbor ... 

Ashley, 13, took this video while she froze in Dover Harbor, with that little fuji camera I mentioned ... 

Honestly, in the beginning of this swim he made it look so easy that I thought, "I have got to do this next year."  I have since changed my mind.