Photo by Susan McConnell

Doug McConnell Called a Hero Despite Early End to Epic Hawaiian Swim for ALS


Marathon swimmer Doug McConnell and his wife Susan returned to Barrington this morning after Doug and his A Long Swim Team set out to conquer a 27+ mile swim across the open-ocean between the Hawaiian islands of Molokai and Oahu. Their mission? To raise awareness for ALS along with funds to help researchers find a cure. Doug’s route was the Ka’iwi Channel which translates to the “Channel of Bones”. Known for 15-foot swells, choppy waves, jellyfish and sharks, only 35 solo swimmers have successfully made it across. Just as Doug was arriving to start his swim, Hurricane Darby entered the picture, becoming only the fifth known tropical storm to landfall in Hawaii since 1958.

Photo by Susan McConnell

Darby ultimately delayed the start of Doug’s swim for ten days bringing heavy rain and winds which impacted conditions in the water. When the weather calmed, the team found an open window to swim and Doug set off, accompanied by his guide boat, crew and kayak companion, Don Macdonald. Also a distance swimmer from Barrington, Don is Doug’s long-time training partner and friend.

After an arduous 32-mile, 16-hour attempt and two years of preparation, Doug and his crew made the call to end the swim. They were only a half-mile away from the finish line and nightfall was approaching. Susan says there was no question that it was the right decision.

“He was so close but he was caught in terrible current. The swells were gigantic and we were lucky to get the boat in there to pick him up. He was traveling at a much slower rate of speed than he had been earlier. We did the math and realized he was going to arrive in the dark along a rocky shore and, if a wave catches a hold of you and crashes you into a rock, you could die. You decide before the swim what risks you’re willing to take and landing in the dark was not acceptable.

Doug may not have reached the shore during this swim, but there’s no question he achieved his goal of supporting those committed to finding a cure for ALS amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the disease that took his father’s life ten years ago.

“Ultimately we decided to terminate the swim. There was not a safe opportunity to land the swim and so, under the “safety-first” motto, I got in the boat,” Doug says.” “I’m disappointed on a personal level because I think I could have completed it, but that really wasn’t the point. The point was to be able to bring awareness and funding to collaborative ALS research and, on that score, we were extraordinarily successful.”

Thousands of people were following Doug’s swim via the A Long Swim Facebook page as it was underway. I was on the edge of my seat watching video updates like this one as he approached the end of his swim.

The comments were filled with encouragement, pride and praise for Doug’s effort. Here are just a few of hundreds of comments shared since they pulled him from the water.

  • “A tough decision, no doubt! A heroic decision, based on love and safety and respected by a smart swimmer!! Stellar moves by all…..congratulations to a First Class Team!! Phenomenal triumph for the ALS community!! So proud of all of you!!” – Judy Smith
  • “What an amazing effort and incredible day! You are our Hero Doug… So glad your safe! Sending lots of love…” – Connie Going
  • “Amazing effort from both Doug and the Team. Those conditions were relentless. Appreciated the wonderful videos. Safety first. Incredible journey for a great cause!” – Lisa Dougherty
  • “Doug, you’re amazing and have thousands who have watched your journey(ies) in awe. You are truly an inspiration to all. You have raised so much awareness and monies for ALS which is your true goal and you have been so successful. Your amazing team assured you were around to do a whole lot more.” – Kelly Hazelton-Gordon
  • “Mark and I and all of Barrington couldn’t be prouder of you and your team, Doug. Your physical feats are an inspiration to all of us baby boomers. And your desire to make a difference in the world with the gifts God has given you is an inspiration to all of us who aspire to do the same.” – Amy Hunt Sauer

Doug’s Hawaiian swim was the fourth in a series of long distance swims he has planned to raise funds for ALS research. When he swam around Manhattan Island in 2014, Doug became one of only 15 people over age 50 to successfully complete the “Triple Crown” of Open Water Swimming. That honor goes only to those who swim across the English Channel, Southern California’s Catalina Channel and around Manhattan Island in New York City.

To date, Doug and his A Long Swim Team have raised well over $350,000 dedicated to the groundbreaking and collaborative ALS research underway at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, one of the top ALS research laboratories in the world.

To learn more about Doug, the team, their mission or to make a donation, visit ALongSwim.com.

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