Welcome to our blog. I have never written a blog before, but I have been blog-counseled by some of the best in the business – our teenagers and my wife, Susan. I refer to it as “our” blog; I will do most of the writing, but I am only a mouthpiece for a whole team of dedicated folks on the A Long Swim Team.
This blog is going to take us on a journey, and the journey is also something I have never done before. You see, several months ago, I made plans to swim the English Channel in August 2011. It has already required a pretty daunting amount of planning, training and some considerable sacrifice on the part of my family, and we are still several months away.
A number of people have asked why I would consider undertaking a swim like this, and I have come up with as many responses. Things like, “Susan wanted to go to France,” or “I’m not six-foot-nine and I am never going to be in the NBA, so this is all I could think of,” and, “Well, it beats getting a girlfriend and a convertible.”
All kidding aside, it is about the challenge. I have been a lifelong swimmer, and have been able to stay competitive from an age-grouper, through college and on to Masters. I still swim almost daily, though not as fast as I once did, and continue to love the training; the solitude is my therapy. Since I was a little kid, the idea of swimming the English Channel was always the ultimate test and an unreachable brass ring in our sport – the very mention of it might as well have contemplated someone swimming to Mars. Over the years, I participated in more open water swimming events and, little by little, stroke by stroke, I started to think more about meeting that challenge and really dedicating myself to achieving it.
There is probably a bit of a mid-life reckoning going on here, too. I turned 53 over Thanksgiving, and was reminded all over again of how fortunate I am. Between Susan and our four kids, our families, our friends and a houseful of pets where everyone is happy, healthy and alert, I am a lucky guy indeed. Susan and I have been married for almost 25 years, and her support for something like this is indispensible. In fact, there has to be a better word than “support,” because her encouragement and enthusiasm down to the most mundane detail or the arduous grind is as essential as the air that I breathe. She got the kids all juiced up about it, too, and they have (willingly!) awakened before daybreak on weekend mornings to go help with another long swim by paddling a canoe or kayak, managing my feedings, counting strokes and taking water temperatures. In fact, this summer, my son Bill built a beautiful kayak in the garage as his boat to escort me. At this point, I think everyone is genuinely excited about the Channel swim, though it may be because they know that every day is a day closer to it being done. They are good sports, and their involvement and commitment to this reminds me to adapt the old expression, “It takes a village to swim to France.”
As the details of the swim began to gel, we wanted to do something with it other than be a celebration of my selfishness. Other people have used Channel swims to bring attention to specific causes or charities, and some have made a world of difference. One friend, Mike Solberg of Rockford, is a Congregational minister and used his 2009 Channel swim to raise $70,000 for a school in Africa. The last I heard from Mike, he was headed to Angola to attend the dedication of the school.
We decided to take a little different tack. My family has been touched by a neurological disease called ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. There will be a number of discussions in this blog about ALS, but it robs the person of their ability to use their muscles, ultimately their ability to speak, breathe or swallow. ALS affects a relatively small number of people, so it doesn’t attract the kind of research dollars that similar diseases, like Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis, do. To address that need, there is a wonderful group right here in the Chicago area called the Les Turner ALS Foundation, that is dedicated to ALS patients and all that they go through, as well as funding research to someday break through to a cure. So, we will be using the Channel swim to raise money, 100% of which will go to the Les Turner Foundation which, in turn, will dedicate 100% of that to ALS research at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
I have witnessed firsthand the struggles of people with ALS. It broke my heart when I saw my father unable to raise his arm to shake hands with someone, or to be unable to stand with respect when a woman walked into the room. Those struggles are dimensions more difficult than anything I could do, and something as trivial as swimming from England to France, while difficult, pales in comparison with what I have seen these people go through every day. As I said earlier, I am an extraordinarily fortunate guy – I can breathe, I can steadily move the muscles in my arms and legs, and I am going to do my level best to pull this swim off.
So, welcome to the blog. The folks at the Foundation have agreed to maintain the website, which is great, because it means that I can spend my time at the pool and the office and write once in a while. I will be writing about the ups and downs of training, the frustration and powerlessness of the ALS sufferers and their families, and old swimming stories. We are going to try to keep it light and fun, so if it gets too “…and then we swam another 5,000 for time…” you will have to send me a note or a comment to steer me down more interesting paths.
See you at the pool or the ocean. I will report back.