Sep 8, 2011

English Channel hopes dashed by bad weather - "Resiliency comes to those that are patient and wait

My hope of swimming the English Channel this season was dashed by mother nature. 

The weather was not with me when my tide window opened August 20th and then closed August 27th. If one were to have endless resources I suppose waiting for weeks on end, as some do, is just part of the experience. A challenging ending this time fraught with expectations, hopes and mixed emotions for me and my family. 

Here are some day-by-day highlights and pictures to share the experience. The day I arrived August 17th, I jumped into a sunny, warm (63f) and calm Dover Harbor which made for a wonderful swim, setting a very positive tone for what I hoped were the days ahead. Here are some of those first day pictures prior to my swim window opening.

Dover Harbor
Chalk hills above Dover

Three days later, August 20th came around and you can see below the typical day from that point forward. there were days with some breaks in the clouds, rain and wind coming intermittently but these usually came with choppy seas. Some of the nicer days that followed thus were already booked up by others waiting patiently before me, in some cases weeks. 

Some of these folks made attempts and failed unfortunately very early into their swims, thus allowing my training partner Doug McConnell to get his shot almost the day he arrived. Doug was successful in his swim ending it just as the mixed weather moved into the Channel late night near the end of his swim with 5-6 foot swells. This has been one of his life long dreams - congratulations Doug and you earned it!

EC on a nice day 3-5ft consistent waves
To the untrained eye, the sea can be deceiving especially from this vantage point above on shore (sorry for the landscape view). It may look calm but you would be quite surprised to learn these are 3 plus foot swells in-shore and further out much bigger. I learned that the biggest challenge is figuring out when to take 'your shot' is forecasting when the sea is not all mixed up and choppy. Winds pushing in the opposite direct as the tide and swells from the open ocean. I learned from our legendary Captain Mike Oram and his son that during our stay in Dover mixed weather forecasts had been the norm for this season. On-shore forecasts different from marine forecasts different from what they call MET data or meterological's.  

Just to show how weather conditions change quickly. This is a video clip was taken by someone also blown out of their swim from just outside Dover Harbor September 6th, a few days after I left England.

So seconds turned to minutes, minutes to hours, hours to days, restless nights of uneven sleep into the next day and so on. Trying to keep ones mind off what seemed to be the endless waiting was not easy and in retrospect probably (as a newbie channel swimmer) the worst part despite having been told this by our great coach Marcia Cleveland over and over. I am a pretty laided back guy but this threw me it took several days for things final began to sink in and relax. 

Even though I know I was ready, hard core trained, cold water and all, this time was like being in prison. "Nothing left but all the time in the world to think about it"...

This is the game of swimming the English channel. No pitty allowed. Many others suffered the same fate as I this season and ultimately it comes down to how much time and money you can afford to wait around for the window of opportunity. These will be good lessons for next time.

The saving grace for me was having my family there, knowing friends, teammates and folks back home were supporting me with emails of all sorts of fun and hilarious comments and best wishes like below. 

Rachel and Jennifer my steadfast safety and feeding crew always keen to protecting me through these many long swims I am sure share my disappointment and inner frustration although they never verbalized it. I know they too were anxious about what lay ahead in Dover. 
BAM jokers

Comforting me near the end of my window of opportunity was a once in a life time surprise my sister Katie Macdonald Smith (who is actually the more gifted and famous swimmer of the family) and husband Ted who organized flying her and my parents all the way from San Francisco to Dover renting a house not even 100 yards from ours. In the end, despite my personal disappointment this was a wonderful time as a family that I will cherish the rest of my life. Thanks you too!

Don & Jean Macdonald
Katie, Mom and Jennifer


For everyone in the 220 School District, Barrington, IL, Goshen, IN (my childhood hometown), friends, teammates, family and especially the 220 Foundation I cannot thank you enough for the honor of sharing this Journey these past months. Today there are overover 6000 friends and counting, each learning sharing and I hope through my experiences, successes and failures perhaps each of us has learned to be a but more resilient. 

Some have said to me along the way - why are you doing this? Why are you sharing this Journey so publicly, exposing yourself and taking such personal risk to ones ego. My answer then and now is simply because I can. My parents and teachers took the time to teach me how to be resilient, work hard, invest myself into something. Teaching kids (and parents) that failure is simply a different direction is the first step to teaching one to be resilient. 

A resilient athlete and student understands how to train and master the body, heart and mind in the pursuit of excellence. Ego driven pursuits are always ephemeral.

No different - A resilient child/student acquires similar life skills through practice. Putting their formal training and life's aspirations to work through success and failure. Starting young, resilience is learned and quickly becomes an intuitive life-long skill when supported by strong, emotionally connected friends, family and parents whom are engaged in the many aspects of their lives.

Thanks for sharing with me all these months your warm and kind wishes. I hope we have learned something together on this Journey. there will be more 'One Stroke At A Time adventures to come so stay tuned. 

I will take my shot again some day and perhaps like 'Doc Councilmen' the famous Indiana University Swim coach, maybe I too could someday be the oldest the cross the English Channel ....but I think much sooner:)

So what's your dream? 

 "Dream big and set your goals ridiculously high and if you fail, you will have failed above everyone else's success. Successful people fail more often than succeed, but they never quit and neither should you"
Keep taking 'One Stroke At A Time' - Don


  1. You positive attitude is very admirable. Thanks for sharing your story and showing such strength throughout.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experiences here on your blog.