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.