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posted: 8/11/2011 5:45 AM

Barrington men ready for English Channel swim

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  • Doug McConnell, left, and Don Macdonald, both of Barrington, will attempt to swim the English Channel starting Aug. 20.

      Doug McConnell, left, and Don Macdonald, both of Barrington, will attempt to swim the English Channel starting Aug. 20.
    Courtesy of Doug McConnell and Dan McDonald

 
 

While most Northwest suburbanites will say goodbye to summer at a festival or barbecue, two Barrington men will contend with cold international waters and stinging jellyfish.

Doug McConnell and Don Macdonald will leave for the U.K. next week for their united effort to swim the English Channel in support of separate causes.

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McConnell, 53, has surpassed $100,000 in fundraising for the Les Turner ALS Foundation. He now strongly expects to reach $150,000 from his swim in memory of his father, David, who died from ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) five years ago.

Macdonald, 49, is swimming in support of the current social-emotional learning programs in Barrington Unit District 220 funded by the District 220 Educational Foundation.

While his swim will be tied into the foundation's golf outing and fundraiser Aug. 26 -- particularly through the event's "Buy a Stroke" feature -- his main intention is to provide students in the programs with stories and examples of mental and physical resiliency.

Both men have been blogging about their preparations for the swim, McConnell at alongswim.com and Macdonald at one-stroke-at-a-time.blogspot.com.

They have been competitive swimmers since their youth, but have each acquired physical issues over the years that have made the right preparation for this already tough undertaking even more necessary.

Not long ago, McConnell had spinal surgery for a herniated disc. A medical device -- which he credits for his ability to even attempt the swim -- was made by Minneapolis-based Medtronic, which agreed to match the first $50,000 he raised.

The Chicago-based Gilbert and Jacqueline R. Fern Foundation has just agreed to match the next $25,000 if he can raise it.

The announcement on the ALS Foundation website sparked about 10 more donations within the first 90 minutes this week.

"It almost doesn't matter what the numbers are, it's that people are motivated to do that," an amazed McConnell said.

Macdonald also suffers from progressive neck skeletal damage which required him to develop a new way of swimming.

He now swims looking straight down into the water most of the time and cricks his neck up to look ahead only about once or twice a mile.

For the most part, he said, he'll just be following the boat accompanying him on the 13- to 16-hour swim that covers the more than 21 miles between England and France.

McConnell and Macdonald may end up swimming on the same or different days during their one-week window from Aug. 20-26. As such, they could each face very different conditions.

The swim window offers the possibility of adding a slight bit of manageability to an activity that can't avoid being grueling.

The water temperature will be as warm as it ever is -- topping out at a still chilly 64 degrees Fahrenheit. And the tides that week, due to the position of the moon, offer the smallest shift between high and low.

With these factors in mind, and the amount of training and competitions the two men have done over the past six months, the two men are currently feeling confident.

"If we get a day that the Channel will let anyone across, I believe I can swim that far," McConnell said.

Macdonald plans to head up to Scotland after his Channel swim-window is over to cap off the trip with a relatively short and easy swim of Loch Ness.

He joked that it would be ironic for a successful conquering of the Channel to end with an encounter with the elusive monster.

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