When a Village Thinks Alike and Acts Together (Taking the ALS Challenge)

On a hot summer night, in a little town in the Midwest, we gathered for a common cause,  took the challenge, nominated others, spoke our minds and made memories.

We have a guy in our town by the name of Peter Yankala, who owns a classic men’s clothing company, Phillips Men’s Wear.  Peter is the marketing genius behind all of these fabulous moral boosting and fund raising efforts that we host in the name of this favored charity, the Les Turner ALS Foundation.

We have another guy in our town by the name of Bob Lee, who commanderes people in the name of social justice and raises money like hell won’t have it.  Bob has circumnavigated the perimeter of the United States on a bicycle, raising more than $1,000,000 for ALS.  All after the age of 60.

And there’s another one by the name of Douglas McConnell, who has swum the English Channel, the Catalina Channel and around the Island of Manhattan, earning the “Triple Crown” of open water swimming and raising more than $325,000 for ALS.

So when you put the three of them together (Peter, Bob and Doug) it’s a beautifully intelligent and magical combination.  The three are tirelessly creative in their scheming ways to create excitement and raise money for the horrid disease that is ALS.

Her are some photographs and videos of some of the

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 4thlargest 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. 

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.

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.”  

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.

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. (www.lesturnerals.org)  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 www.alongswim.com  
And you can learn more about him on my funny blog about his open water swimming here www.mybionicboyfriend.com
Here is a website all about jellyfish:  www.igotstung.com
And here is a link to an article about jellyfish that my husband wrote for them:  http://www.alongswim.com/2013/03/27/stung-is-the-new-black/
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

Sligo’s Parting Glass


As my oldest son has started a whiskey subscription company, Taster’s Club, my interest in whiskey has grown.  So far, however, I admire whiskey from afar.

In the meantime, I’ve come across this beautiful short film entitled Sligo’s Parting Glass, created by Tellamore Dew Irish Whiskey.  The short film was created as a result of the overwhelming response to an even shorter film made as a commercial.  The photography and the music are captivating.  So, on this St. Patrick’s day, here is the commercial as well as the short film:

My Mother’s Top 10 Wicked One-Liners

Today would have been my mother’s 89th birthday.  We had a very intense relationship, and her passing had the harsh finality of a never-to-be-repeated punctuation mark.  Or, maybe more like a punch in the stomach.  I miss her.

My mother grew up in a family of German immigrants, lots of them, who all lived on the same block in an ethnic part of Cincinnati.  She told great stories about that time in her life.  Her family taught her to appreciate her roots, to appreciate her religion, and to appreciate wicked one-liners.

Her one-liners were the best because they were razor sharp, bitingly sarcastic, consistently clever, and simply unending.  My mother was so immersed in smart-ass commentary during her formative years that she could have no more broken that habit than she could have turned her back on the Virgin Mary.

In her memory, at Christmas this year, my siblings and I created an advent calendar with her most creatively delivered sayings.  Here, what I think, are her top 10 wicked one-liners …

Oh, and one more, the one I like the most …