Favorite Quote Of The Day

“If you think you’re outclassed: you are. You have to think high to rise. You have to be sure of yourself before you can win a prize. Life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger or faster man but sooner or later the man who wins is the fellow who thinks he can.”
Mick Helpsy, swam the English Channel on July 10, 2007 in 13 hours, 35 minutes and 57 seconds.

Going Postal

All around the country this morning, and here in the midwest in the middle of another snowstorm, swimmers swam their fastest for one hour.

Then their time sheets (recorded by the 50’s) will all be mailed in (that’s the going postal part) to the hosting club in Oregon. The hosting club changes every year.

Doug swam two, one hour races. In the first race he swam 4,600 and the second 4,800. 4,600 + 4,800 = 9,400 yards in all.

And who got up at 5:15 to be the timer? You bet.

The Youngest Member of A Long Swim Team

Alley, an accomplished swimmer herself, brings to the A Long Swim team a wicked sense of humor and a spicey personality. She turned 13 on New Year’s Eve and her new year’s resolution was “none of your business.”

She’s a pretty important team member because she’s basically my personal assistant on the busy days that the open water swims bring. We make food, pack bags, and fight about whether to bring the dog or not. On Doug’s final open water qualifying swim in Lake Zurich, Illinois … which was swimming 6 hours in 61 degree water … she jumped in and swam with Doug for a bit.

In this picture she is painting epoxy on the guide kayak that was built in the garage. She’s actually wearing a garbage bag and the fact that we used it as one of our christmas card photographs and on this blog really ticks her off, even though she knows that she looks adorable.

My Boxes … Like Father … Like Son

As a young woman, the age of 20, I had a long list of boxes to check off for guys that I would date. So, I spent a lot of time alone.

I won’t bore you with the impossible list of boxes.

I met Doug on the platform of the Barrington Train Station on October 15th of 1980 and after a few rides seated next to each other on the 7:11 AM train I suspected that I could check off a lot of those boxes … if I looked at them with him in mind.

One box that was extremely important to me was the “will he be a good father?” box. By the kindness and understanding that he showed to me, after I had just moved to sophisticated Barrington from rural Upstate New York, I could tell that he had the “good fathering” gene. He listened and learned about me, intently. He patiently taught me how to go through a turnstyle, you know, the wicked fast ones that only Chicago has. He coaxed me back to college and helped me study. I wondered what his own father would be like.

And then I met him. Dave McConnell. It’s a good rule of thumb that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. And, as I can tell you 30 years later, it hadn’t. Dr. McConnell, who at first intimidated me and made me feel at home at the same time, was worldly yet normal, strong yet gentle. I was able to sit at a big window at his animal hospital and watch him perform surgery and talk to all of the people in the room at the same time. You could tell they loved him. I was able to sit at his dinner table and watch him treat everyone as if his home were theirs.

Doug would be a good father. Because he had one of those. My boxes were completely checked.

When our first child was born, I almost didn’t make it. Doug was stronger than I ever dreamed. He was alone and he made decisions for me for which I am thankful. I was not available for a long time and when I finally came to the quiet, little party he had named our first son David Alexander McConnell II, after his father. I was touched and honored and couldn’t think of a better ending. The next day his father came into my room and held my head in his hands and kissed my forehead. His eyes had tears in them.

Doug and I went on to adopt three more children, all with amazing stories. Their grandfather, Dave, was a wonderful role model to them, just as he had been for his own son. He and Doug’s Mother, Bonnie, lived one town away from us and we all spent a lot of time together. Birthdays, holidays, and special projects … I saw the effects that the boxes on my check list had on my new family every day.

Dave announced to us in 1994 that he had ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease.) His eyes got those tears again and he put his then failing arms around Bonnie and told us not to worry, it wasn’t heriditary. We had just brought Gordy, our third child, home from Iowa. We thought we were on top of the world. We were all about to be tested beyond our wildest dreams.

Flash forward, and by the time Dave McConnell died our oldest son, David, whom we call Mack, was 20. Our son Bill was 15, Gordy, the one from Iowa, was 13 and Ashley was 10. Dave lived 13 years with ALS, well beyond the time he was given. His doctors at Northwestern are to thank for that.

Dave lives on every day in Doug, in so many more ways than being an amazing father. And that’s why Doug has dedicated swimming the English Channel to his father on behalf of The ALS Foundation, hence the title A Long Swim. His dad would be so proud.

His dad never knew about my boxes. He never knew that he was one of them.

The picture above is of Douglas working with our son, Bill, as he built a mahogany kayak from scratch the summer of 2010. They worked in our garage for many, many hours. I wish I would have counted them. They laughed and talked and solved the world’s problems. They solved their own problems. It was great therapy for both of them. Bill is one of Doug’s guides on his open water swims and the kayak was built for that purpose. There is a link to all of the photographs cronicled from building the kayak above under “the bestest blogs.”

I’ve never been disappointed in the boxes that I put on my list to check.

And I bet you money that, one day, one of our children will name their sons Douglas.

The Dangers Of Open Water Swimming and The Duties of A Guide

Susan, to Doug, as he steps out of the shower and she sees the red streaks on his back … “What happened to you?”

Doug … “My guide boat hit me. It only happened once this time.”

The picture above does show what looks like a confusing open water course. This picture was taken by Gordy, one of the guides for A Long Swim. He and his brother, Bill, are the regulars and, to hear Doug tell it, they’re usually arguing over donuts or pulling things out of the water rather than keeping track of him.

On a nice day a guide has a pretty easy job. Just follow along and enjoy the ride. But if the weather is cold you need to watch for hypothermia. That means counting strokes, managing feeds a little more closely and talking to your swimmer a whole lot more. Definitely no guide boat donut arguments.

I’m guilty of hitting him once. He was training on his favorite pond, Chilmark, on Martha’s Vineyard. I was in a kayak and it was foggy. We were 100% alone and that is a little scarey for me since I can’t swim. The first rule of a good guide is to be able to swim and rescue if necessary. But, he was desperate to swim and I was available and that was that. I saw him swimming off course and attempted to follow him but he turned his course in the right direction and right toward me. I screamed, he didn’t hear me and his arm thumped over my bow. He wasn’t happy but is always patient and winked and just kept going.

A real guide should be a real lifeguard. This new year’s eve, after a few glasses of champagne, we were making our new year’s resolutions and the room just stopped and stared when I made mine … to become a lifeguard. “You don’t know how to swim!”

2011 to do list

1. check everyone’s passports
2. arrange a house swap in England
3. find someone to take care of the best dog in the world
4. purchase a respectable video camera
5. make arrangements for kids to miss 1st week of school
(oh my god)
6. create healthy recipes for endurance athletes
7. acquire “how to create a documentary” for dummies
8. plan fund raisers for http://www.ALongSwim.com
9. create beautiful thank you cards
10. take lots of pictures