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(Above) Open water swimmers at the beginning of a triathlon in England (Harlequin9/Adobe).

27-Apr-19 – From Ping Tom Park to Clark Street Bridge, as many as 100 brave, vaccinated souls will swim the Chicago River in September in the first organized swim in the river in more than 100 years.

7:00 a.m. on September 15 is the tentative start time for the Chicago River Open. The 2.4-mile swim on a Sunday morning will take experienced open water swimmers past River City on the south branch, turn at Wolf Point onto the main branch, and end in front of River Theatre, where wide concrete steps could accommodate a large crowd.

Don Macdonald, a management consultant, and Doug McConnell, an investment banker, have been working with city, state, and federal officials and agencies for at least two years, including 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly, Chicago Park District, and United States Coast Guard. McConnell says there are some approvals they still need to get.

Both men live in the Chicago area and are open water swimmers themselves. Between them, they have swum around the island of Manhattan, across the English Channel, and 27 miles from one Hawaiian island to another.

Between Ping Tom Memorial Park in Chinatown and the Clark Street Bridge in the Loop, swimmers in the Chicago River Open will take up the east half of the south branch and the south half of the main branch. There will be buoys every 500 meters and observers in kayaks will watch for hazards. The river will not be closed for the event.

Doug McConnell

McConnell (left) told the Chicago Harbor Safety Committee on Wednesday the goal will be to have all the swimmers and buoys out of the water by 10:00 a.m.

The Chicago event will raise money for research into ALS, the neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Their organization, A Long Swim, has through similar events raised $500,000.