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Doug McConnell of Barrington to Swim the English Channel in Memory of His Father who Died of ALS

Doug McConnell at Pool

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” (www.ALongSwim.com) 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.

A lifelong swimmer, McConnell has completed countless open water swims, but the 24-mile Tampa Bay Marathon Swim on April 23 will have special meaning for him, as it is a major milestone of his training program. Dedicated training has been heavy for more than a year, and during these early months, McConnell’s routine includes daily swims, logging a minimum of 35,000 yards (approximately 20 miles) per week, plus three hours of cross-training at the gym. As training intensifies and the weather improves, McConnell and his training partner Don Macdonald will increase the distance of their swims and spend more time in Lake Michigan. The regimen is rigorous, especially when woven into an already busy life of work and family commitments.

“Swimming the English Channel has always been a dream of mine because I truly love swimming and I appreciate physical challenges,” said Doug McConnell. “When I decided to train for this swim, it was obvious to me that this effort could be much bigger, and it could be used to bring attention to a cause that has touched our family.”

McConnell’s father was diagnosed with ALS in 1994 after having lost strength in his arms nearly two years earlier. Unlike most people with ALS who live between two and five years after the diagnosis, David McConnell lived with the disease for 14 years.

David McConnell, DVM, had an intellectual curiosity that he indulged throughout his entire life. He studied politics, was an avid fan of the Chicago Bears and the University of Illinois sports teams, and served as chairman of the Camp Edwards Board of the YMCA of Greater Elgin area. A 40-year member of the International Wine and Food Society, he had an extremely perceptive palate. Very active in organized veterinary medicine, McConnell owned the largest private veterinary practice in Illinois and was involved with the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association.

“I saw firsthand how ALS affected my father and the struggles he faced with daily activities. Those struggles are profound and far more difficult than most people can imagine. Planning to swim from England to France, while strenuous, pales in comparison to what people with ALS endure, and it helps me put into perspective the challenges people with ALS go through every day.”

In late 2009, Doug’s own health was threatened when he developed a severely herniated disc between two cervical vertebrae, resulting in the loss of all use of his left arm. After physical therapy and other unsuccessful treatments, Doug underwent a disc replacement surgery. The surgery was life-changing, and today he has regained strength in his arm and swims without pain.

Swimming the English Channel is considered the "Everest of open-water swimming." In fact, approximately the same number of people have swum the Channel as climb Mt. Everest every year. It is one of the very few elite endurance athletic events in the world. Since the first person swam the English Channel in 1875, approximately 1,600 have successfully completed the swim. People who attempt this swim have to contend with cold, jellyfish, exhaustion and the stress of dodging traffic in one of the world's busiest shipping corridors.

“We are thrilled that Doug is using this incredible experience of swimming the English Channel as a way to shine the spotlight on ALS and raise funds for critical research at Northwestern,” said Wendy Abrams, executive director of the Les Turner ALS Foundation. “We’re inspired by his efforts.”

Doug has assembled a group he calls the “A Long Swim Team,” which is comprised of close friends and relatives, all of whom are helping with his fundraising efforts. The team is enlisting support for “A Long Swim” from corporate sponsors, colleagues, friends, relatives and the swimming community. Doug’s fundraising goal is $50,000 and so far he is pleased with the response. All of the proceeds from “A Long Swim” will support research at the Les Turner ALS Research Laboratory at Northwestern University.

ALS
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often called Lou Gehrig’s disease, attacks a person’s muscles, gradually robbing them of their ability to walk, speak, eat and breathe, yet usually keeping their mind intact. Approximately 35,000 people at any given time are living with ALS in the United States. It primarily affects adults between the ages of 40 and 70 years of age. While some symptoms are treatable, there is currently no cure for ALS.

Les Turner ALS Foundation
Les Turner, a Chicago area businessman and father of three, was diagnosed with ALS in 1976 at the age of 36. Established by Les and his friends in 1977, the Les Turner ALS Foundation is recognized internationally and is the only independent, publicly supported non-profit organization in the Chicago area devoted solely to the treatment and elimination of ALS.

The Foundation is affiliated with Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine where it funds two world-class research laboratories and a large multi-disciplinary clinical program. The Foundation also supports in-home consultation services by three nurses and a social worker, support group meetings, communications and durable medical equipment programs, respite care grants and educational activities. Currently, the Foundation serves approximately 90 percent of the ALS patients in the Chicago area.

For more information about A Long Swim and the Les Turner ALS Foundation, call 847-679-3311 or visit www.lesturnerals.org.

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