Articles & Interviews
A Long Swim has announced that it has made a significant gift to Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. The gift will fund the Ellen McConnell Blakeman ALS Research Fellowship, and it will provide for a post-doctoral fellow to engage in the important research work of the Ozdinler ALS Research Lab at Northwestern School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois. The Ozdinler Lab is headed up by P. Hande Ozdinler, PhD. Dr. Ozdinler has made remarkable discoveries in a career that has been dedicated to ALS research. Dr. Ozdinler was the first high-profile ALS researcher in the world to identify the importance of studying the mechanisms for deterioration of upper motor neurons in ALS patients, which study has now become one of the essential areas for focus among ALS researchers worldwide. Further, Dr. Ozdinler’s ALS research is done collaboratively with other research centers around the world; that teamwork approach really appeals to A Long Swim.
This ALS Research Fellowship is named after Ellen McConnell Blakeman, who lost her battle with ALS in February 2018 after a 12-year struggle with the disease. Ellen McConnell Blakeman led a life of excellence as a trailblazer for equal rights, as a businesswoman, as an athlete, and as a public relations expert in crisis management. Her passion was exemplified by the fact that she was a co-founder of A Long Swim along with her brother, Doug McConnell. Hence, it is fitting that A Long Swim is able to fund an ALS research fellowship in her memory. “Ellen was the source of all of the great ideas for A Long Swim,” Doug McConnell noted. “She had great admiration for Dr. Ozdinler’s work, and was convinced that her research would lead to breakthroughs. She also loved Dr. Ozdinler’s commitment to collaborative research, as Ellen saw the clear evidence that the pace of discovery would be accelerated with teamwork.”
Ellen’s son, Brenten Blakeman, said, “My brother and I have been honored to carry on our mother’s work towards finding a cure to this awful disease, and to do so with her determination and passion. She was a strong believer in Dr. Ozdinler and her lab. The A Long Swim team and I couldn’t be more excited to add support to Dr. Ozdinler’s lab and, while she may not have preferred the recognition, honor her legacy.” Bennett Blakeman added, “Although Mom would be humbly embarrassed to have this fellowship named after her, our commitment to ensure her legacy continues to live on is unwavering. As a mother, her support for Brenten and I in all of our endeavors in life was just as strong as when she was while fighting ALS. She is loved and missed dearly. I can’t think of a better team than Dr. Ozlinder’s lab to partner with for this fellowship, as Mom embodied the idea of collaboration in every aspect of her life.”
We need your help to be a part of this important work so this Fellowship can be sustained. To be a part of the Ellen McConnell Blakeman ALS Research Fellowship, contributions may be made online HERE. A Long Swim is a 501(c)3 nonprofit recognized by the IRS. It is dedicated to using open water and marathon-distance swimming and athletic events to bring awareness and funding to ALS research and, ultimately, building a permanent linkage between the sport and the disease it supports. A Long Swim has raised money by capitalizing on swims of the English Channel and other ocean swims, hosting competitive open water swimming events, and by sponsoring triathletes. Since its founding, A Long Swim has succeeded in raising more than $500,000 for ALS research.
Q&A: Doug McConnell, Co-Founder of A Long Swim
Chicago Athlete Magazine, by Holly Petrovich | June 1, 2018
Q: How did you first get involved with swimming?
A: I was a swimmer since I was a little kid; I started with the summer league team at the East Dundee Park District, and not because I was a good swimmer but because I had older sisters who were both really good and they had a lot of fun with it. I felt like I had found my niche; I swam at the Elgin YMCA through high school, and did pretty well. After college, once I started building a career and family, I would swim periodically at masters meets to keep my hand in it. Read the entire article online.
Interested in taking a swim in the Chicago River?
1440 Wrok News Talk, by Riley O’Neil | September 15, 2016
When I think of the Chicago River, my mind tends to lean toward images of the river being dyed green for Saint Patrick’s Day, not for a refreshing dip. So, I was more than a little surprised to learn that a movement is afoot to make the Chicago River “swim-able.”
The man in the photo above, S.S. Nichol, is pictured here in 1909, as he prepares to take part in a marathon swim of the Chicago River. Not only were there marathon swims of the river at that time, the competition drew a large group of spectators. Visit 1440 Wrok and see great photos of Chicago River swimmers from the early 1990’s.
Some swimmers don’t want to wait to tackle Chicago River
Chicago Sun Times, by Mark Brown | September 14, 2016
You’ve heard all the talk of making the Chicago River safe for swimming by 2020. A pair of local swim race promoters have a much faster timetable in mind.
Don Macdonald of Wrigleyville and Douglas McConnell of Barrington are pitching local officials on a proposal to hold an open water swim race on the main stem of the river through downtown as early as next summer.
To prove its feasibility, they are seeking to hold a “test swim” on Sunday, Oct. 23, that would be open only to an invited group of elite swimmers.
This is where I’m supposed to joke that the test is intended to determine whether the swimmers can survive without getting sick or worse. But that would be cheap. Actually, they’re just hoping to work through some of the logistics, assuming they first receive all the necessary permissions, which isn’t yet the case. Read about the issues swimmers face in the Chicago River.
Doug McConnell Called a Hero Despite Early End to Epic Hawaiian Swim for ALS
365 Barrington, by Liz Luby | August 31, 2016
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. Read the entire article here.
Doug McConnell On A Long Swim
Daily News of Open Water Swimming | Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California, July 29, 2016
The English Channel is often referred to as the Mount Everest of open water swimming.
But there are more difficult channel swims than the English Channel.
The Molokai Channel is one of those mightily difficult channels.
While the water in the English Channel is much colder, athletes swimming between Molokai and Oahu face tropical heat, sharks of various types and sizes, massive ocean swells and tidal flows, Portuguese man o war, jellyfish and potentially large surf. Check out the Daily News of Open Water Swimming to read the entire article.
He does marathons — in the water
Crain’s Chicago Business, by Bridget Sweeney | July 3, 2014
Nearly every summer morning at 6, investment banker Douglas McConnell is in the middle of Lake Zurich, religiously counting strokes in his head as he logs two-hour swims.
Mr. McConnell, 56, of northwest suburban Barrington, recently became the 84th person in the world — and the 16th over age 50 — to complete an open-water endurance swim of more than 20 miles, this one in New York.
In 2011, he battled five-foot waves and 63-degree water temperatures, wearing only a Speedo, while swimming through the night to traverse the 32-mile English Channel. Mr. McConnell kicked off from land near Dover, England, and ended 14 hours and 40,538 strokes later in Wissant, France. You can read the entire article online at Crain’s Chicago Business.
A Long Swim Part 1- An Interview With Doug & Susan McConnell
Podcast #337 | October 17, 2011
There are 7 billion people walking the earth right now. There have been 5,000 people who have successfully summited Mount Everest. Just over 1600 human beings have swam the English channel- Today’s guests are Doug and Susan McConnell. Doug is only the 48th person over the age of 50 to successfully swim the English Channel. But he could not have done it without his team led by his wife Susan. In this two part interview- Doug shares with us how the idea came up as a gag over a few glasses of wine to a commitment that changed the direction of his life. He tells us about the obstacles namely sharks, hypothermia and how he navigated past each one of them and he sets the record straight of the old wives tale of whether or not it helps to pee on a jelly fish stings. Listen to Susan and Doug share their experience of preparing, training, and swimming the English Channel.
Channeling his effort
The Woodstock Independent, by September 1, 2011|
Within the next month, Barrington resident Doug McConnell will attempt to accomplish something that only 47 people older than 50 have accomplished – swimming the English Channel.
McConnell will swim in memory of his father, who passed away from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. McConnell’s goal is to raise $50,000 for the Les Turner ALS Research Laboratory at Northwestern University. Medtronic, his primary sponsor, will match funds up to $50,000.
McConnell’s family came to Woodstock in the 1860s, and McConnell Road is named after his great-grandfather, who owned the original farm on the road. His parents, David and Bonnie, grew up in Woodstock, met in first grade, graduated from Woodstock High School in 1948 and married in 1952. McConnell was born in 1957. Read more about Doug and his family online at the Woodstock Independent.
Man with Medtronic disc swims the English Channel
Star Tribune, by Janet Moore | August 22, 2011
Doug McConnell had been swimming about 20 miles a week in preparation for this week’s English Channel attempt.
Doug McConnell had just polished off a big greasy plate of fish and chips while in Dover, England, when the call came.
“Can you swim the English Channel tomorrow?” he was asked.
Of course, he could swim it, McConnell thought. He knew he was ready. The 53-year-old Chicago-area investment banker had been training for the notoriously difficult trek from Dover to the French port of Calais for more than two years. Part of that training was disrupted by a severely herniated disc in his neck that required a cervical disc replacement, made by Fridley-based Medtronic Inc. Read more about Doug’s English Channel swim.
Doug McConnell of Barrington to Swim the English Channel in Memory of His Father who Died of ALS
March 15, 2011
In August 2011, Doug McConnell of Barrington expects to be the 48th person over age 50 to successfully swim across the English Channel. He will be swimming more than 21 grueling miles in memory of his father David who passed away from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and in honor of the thousands of people throughout the world who are currently living with the disease.
McConnell has branded his efforts “A Long Swim” and is using this endurance challenge to educate the public about ALS and fundraise for scientific research programs at the Les Turner ALS Research Laboratory at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Read the entire article from the Trib Local.