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(Above) Don Macdonald of Barrington, Illinois, swims at the 25K U.S. Masters Nationals, an open water marathon event.

16-Sep-16 – Between them, they have swum around the island of Manhattan, across the English Channel, and 27 miles from one Hawaiian island to another. Now two men from Barrington, Illinois, think a swim in the Chicago River will be a good idea for them and possibly 100 or more other swimmers next year.

Don Macdonald, a management consultant, and Doug McConnell, an investment banker, have been meeting with city and state agencies, working toward a goal of a fundraising event for charity in which experienced open water swimmers – with training, permits, and vaccinations – would swim from Ping Tom Memorial Park on the south branch of the Chicago River to the Clark Street Bridge on the main branch.

Google Map It is a distance of 2.5 miles, past River City, turning at Wolf Point, and ending in front of River Theatre, the Riverwalk room with wide concrete steps that could accommodate a large crowd.

They are aiming for mid-summer of next year. It would be the first organized swim on the Chicago River, according to Macdonald, in more than 100 years.

“There is a unique opportunity for us to be able to highlight the Chicago River in this way and really capitalize on such a unique attribute of the city,” Macdonald told a meeting of Chicago Harbor Safety Committee on September 7.

‘Test swim’ will work out logistics and prove survivability

In late October, a group of about 10-12 swimmers will take a “test swim” over the proposed route, staying on the east side of the south branch and south side of the main branch. All of the swimmers who have expressed interest in participating in the test swim are, says Macdonald, “accomplished open water swimmers” and include others who have swam the English Channel and around Manhattan.

“The goal of the test swim really is to be able to prove that, first of all, people are not going to croak if they get into the river, but also that this can be done from a logistics standpoint and manage around commercial traffic in the river.”

Macdonald and McConnell have been working with Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, which has offered them use of two boats and arranged for Argonne National Laboratory to test the quality of the river water in September.

They still need to figure out an efficient way of getting swimmers in and out of the river.

“One of the things that’s ironic about this is since there has been nobody swimming in the Chicago River for a century, it isn’t like there are swim ladders every 50 feet,” says Macdonald. “It is very noticeable that swimming was not contemplated in the Chicago River.”

In July, McConnell (right) swam from Molokai island to Oahu. It was a 32-mile swim, including 27 miles over ocean 2,300 feet deep, with steady trade winds, 15 foot swells, whales, dolphins, jellyfish, and sharks. Doug McConnell

When he swam the English Channel in 2011, it took him 14 hours in heavy waves and pitch darkness.

The Chicago event would 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 $400,000.