On July 31st A Long Swim Team swam, kayaked, celebrated and worried across Hawaii’s Ka’iwi Channel (a/k/a the Channel of Bones) for what added up to 32 miles and 16+ hours. A Long Swim is a nonprofit with the mission of raising awareness and funds for collaborative ALS research through open water swimming.
Parts of the day were filled with some of the most incredible swimming I’ve ever experienced in my life. The open ocean is vast and clean. The water is a blue that is breathtakingly beautiful and crystal clear. The salinity is so high that you float like a cork, and you’ve always got your eyes open for a creature that could be higher than you on the food chain. Part of the time we had the waves and currents at our backs and we had swimming speeds of up to 3 miles per hour.
We started the swim a little before 2:00 in the morning to take advantage of falling wind speeds. By 6:00 pm, as we approached Oahu, the waves and currents were pushing us away from our goal. After fighting the current for a long time, we did the simple math; the outgoing current had slowed our progress to a crawl, and the window to reach land in the daylight was closing rapidly.
The swim of the Ka’iwi Channel is not a swim you should try to land at night. The eastern shore of Oahu has just a couple of sand beaches, and the rest is sharp volcanic rocks or sheer walls. We were within a half-mile of Oahu; it looked so close, I thought I could throw a baseball and hit dry land. As we realized that we could not safely land the swim, we terminated the swim and I got in the escort boat. Susan McConnell, Don Macdonald and our boat pilot, Matt Buckman, made the right call. Every day, Mother Nature (and her surrogate, the Ka’iwi Channel) is in ultimate control. Some days, the Channel will let you across. July 31st was not one of those days. Our team was frustrated, mad, and some cried.
This is a new experience for me. In more than 50 years as a competitive swimmer, I have never failed to make it to the finish line. I reminded our team of how lucky we are; while we didn’t get the chance to climb up on that beach, we have the opportunity to get up and fight again. Whether it is the Ka’iwi Channel or some other swim, there is no shortage of marathon swims around the world. But the ones we were swimming for – those with ALS – don’t get second chances. They lose a fight every single day as ALS robs them of more and more on their way to their own personal shipwreck. A little perspective often helps when you’re feeling a little sorry for yourself.
We think that thousands were watching the tracker, provided by MarathonSwimmers.org. We know that thousands were cheering on Facebook.
During the swim itself, Susan was actively posting photographs and videos on Facebook and other social media sites, and people loved it. The technology and photography proved that open water swimming could be a spectator sport. We felt very fortunate to be able to communicate to all corners of the globe, and come together in a blue open ocean in the middle of nowhere.
We’ve yet to count the donations, but we can tell you that significant amounts came in during the actual swim. More than once, the news of people opening their hearts (and wallets) was a big lift that kept us going. The fundraising side of this will be a whole separate report, but we can tell you wholeheartedly – it will go to collaborative ALS research. We know the success of teamwork and we want to promote that in the research that we fund. Donations may still be made here or in person at Phillips Menswear in Barrington, Illinois.
The next few weeks will be used for healing and getting back to work at our real jobs. Our minds are already reeling with what the next swim might look like, so stay tuned. And if there’s one thing we learned on this Ka’iwi Channel swim, it’s to keep the faith.
We will be back with a full report on the experience.
It’s import to mention the following people/organizations that made this swim possible:
Our Hawaii Team:
Linda Kaiser - Hawaii Channel Advisor
Matt Buckman - Boat Pilot
DeRoy - Hawaii Water Guide
Our Crew Team:
Don Macdonald - Coach and Kayaker
Susan McConnell - Photographer, Videographer, Communications
Gordy McConnell - Navigation, Statistician, Nutrition
Ashley McConnell - Navigation, Statistician, Nutrition
Stan McConnell - Navigation, Statistician, Nutrition