Sep 4, 2019

Its Only An Island From The Water

Its Only An Island From The Water

Don Macdonald Ocean Voyager

After years of Hollywood fear mongering, tourism self-promotion, and social media jokes I decided to find out what all the hubbub was about on this JAWS thing and kayak between Nantucket Island and Martha's Vineyard. 

Arriving on the island I was in my usual happy go lucky beach attire, with sun screen and a pocket full of kryptonite. Pleased to see the black dog having taken over prominent advertising positions from jaws along side Quinn tee-shirts suggesting I need "a bigger kayak" which I think is code for "male inadequacy" slipped in by Steven Spielberg (but don't tell the east coasters)?

This trip was about mixing island time with fundraising time, helping a swim buddy try his hand at making a crossing to raise funds for ALS. This wasn't the first time we've tried such monolithic swims and now a very experienced ocean kayaker having logged probably as many hours in a kayak as most professionals between Molokai and Oahu, circumnavigation of Manhattan Island, trips in Lake Michigan, Florida, California in the saddle for 10 hours sometimes on a sit on top non-touring (aka non-luxurious kayak). 

So the day began like any another. Up early some breakfast walking down to the pier to meet up with the rest of the crew, no worries of what Mother Nature would throw at me in the middle of the ocean except for that nagging JAWS thing?

Launching from the western end of Nantucket at Eel Point, 7 am EST we easily made our way out to the coastal shelf north staying away from shallows, seals and sharks. The jellyfish - lions main, moons, reds were thick and troublesome for my swimmer as I heard garbled "ouch", "ugh" comments quickly made between each breathe. 

As we progressed westward off in the distance I could see seals lounging on the beach like union workers around a utility pole. Looked relaxed gathering pension sun rays of the shifting Atlantic stream. I did reflect for a moment about the global implications for humankind of warming oceans, thinking instead I'll bet they are thankful for climate change! One mammals loss is an other's gain, I mused.

Three hours later we arrived Muskeget Island by riding a nice 1.6 knot (1.84 mph) flow along the northern shallows. While 1.84 mph doesn't sound speedy in swimming or kayaking terms this is comparable to maybe running a 7 minute mile so not bad. But barely seeing the seals while disappointing was fine since I know what comes with seals and for our swimmers sake today we'll stay far away.

For these swims we use GPS trackers so while we are paddling along quiet nicely you can watch from work. Pinging every ten minutes, it makes for a less productive fun work day and let's be honest that's helpful. At some point in these events your mind wanders and for me this led me back to thinking if all those at home or work watching were too thinking of JAWS? 

I mean those at work and home never get to see the freakish encounters with glad super garbage bags that scare the crap out of you looking more like JAWS that #oceanplastics. 

 Off in the distance gathering storm clouds.

Actual GPS track Nantucket to MV

We plodded along reaching the half way point when a local guide who had joined the safety crew leaned over the gunwale (that's the side of the boat for you land lubbers) and shouted "where in it now" referring to the flood tide running at 3.9 knots (4.49 mph) heading south like a freight train washing out the sound sending seals into waiting jaws. 

Our objective was to get across this area as quickly as possible to reduce the southern drag saving many miles of additional swimming. As the weather front hit us waves at sea level turned into a jumbled mess, washing machine types. With flood tide waves channeled into the narrow sea bottom heading south and the the wind driving wave tops against, these white caps were helping brush my teeth.  Our swimmer was having non of this as I heard gasps for air like a whale blow. And from time to time we'd stop while he chocked and gagged on salt water. I'd lean over and ask how he was feeling with a usual response of OK, head back down, taking more strokes.

Nantucket Sound Tidal Flows (click for run time version)

As the flood tide freight train pulled us some 4 miles down from our most northerly point (I could see  Pogue lighthouse at one point) things for me got a bit tough. While taking a short break and grabbing a peanut butter sandwich from the support boat I miss judged the waves and they rolled me over. In classic swimmer form I held my hand with sandwich above the water protecting my lunch while I swam back to the kayak and jumped back on board. Now heading into 6 and one half hours in the kayak. Awhile later, over again. This time no sandwich to worry about but me thinking what the heck was that? I never fall over. More rain, winds, and waves and next thing you know, flip! This time wasn't so fun since I wrenched my back and needed to get out. A little embarrassed that my pride was not also eaten by jaws, I mean really!

So our swimmer continued on for a short while with our other safety kayaker and I watched from the support boat. As the minutes turned to an hour it became clear the day was not to be. Our swimmer  eventually was pulled as was our other kayaker.

These events are not for the faint of heart but neither is the reason we do them to raise funds for and awareness. 

This day Mother Nature bested me and some of the best in this business. This day I learned JAWS was a myth.

Aug 12, 2019

"Being the ruler of the sea I grant successful voyages and save those who are in danger" I therefore hold you in the palm of hand as but a few of the things I control.

Nantucket to Marthas Vineyard

Don Macdonald continues his epic life journey swimming and kayaking around the world again taking up the banner of helping others while bringing attention to cardiac and other healthcare issues in a planned 24 mile journey across the great white shark infested Nantucket and Marthas Vineyard channel, Muskegret. 

Kayaking to support Doug McConnell's A Long Swim charity, I have christened my kayak "Poseidon" in the hope the oceans god watches over us in the grueling test of athletic performance and natures purest born killer the Great White Shark. 

Similar to our 2016 attempt to cross the Hawaiian channel of bones from Molokai to Oahu it will be a team effort lasting some 14-16 hours, fraught with open ocean waves and tides, wind, scorching sun, and glorified movie made marine predators.

This expedition I thrilled to connect with my sponsor, Boston Scientific my long time cardiac healthcare technology provider. Boston Scientific since 2013 has been an integral part of my life, actually part of my heart to be more accurate watching over me like Poseidon himself. 

While training to attempt the English Channel a second time I encountered a Sudden Cardiac Arrest (which is not a heart attack) and upon awakening learned my doctors George Christy and Eric Kessler had implanted a sub scapular ICD technology which monitors my heart rhythm remotely 24/7 so I can continue swimming and kayaking around the world. 

Since then and with their watchful support I have been without event, healthy and swimming  with this expedition being my third ultra-marathon kayak trip. The last two being a circumnavigation of Manhattan island and attempt to cross the channel of bones between Molokai and Oahu both for A Long Swim.

"Life changing events have a funny way of giving you perspective, that when shared with others makes humanity better", Don

Hers a like to my 2013 experience that began this journey, Open Water Marathon Swimming Sudden Cardiac Arrest physiology and Swimming around the world.

There is lots more to come so watch for our posts. Dougs swim live feed will be on and I will have in water video and posts from kayak perspective.


May 1, 2019

Chicago River Once Hosted Long-Distance Swims Attended By 100,000 Fans

Chicago River Once Hosted Long-Distance Swims Attended By 100,000 Fans

 The Chicago River used to host massive long-distance swimming events.
Chicago River swimming
DOWNTOWN — It might be hard to imagine now, but the Chicago River once hosted lengthy "marathon" swimming races attended by thousands of spectators.
“In the early 1900s, the Chicago River 'swimming marathon,' a roughly two-mile course, dominated the city’s summer sports calendar with thousands of people crowding the river banks and bridges to see the brave contestants," said Peter Alter of the Chicago History Museum.
Veteran outdoor swimmer Don Macdonald recently proposed bringing a long-distance swim back to the Chicago River. Macdonald, who has guided swims around Manhattan Island and also participated in several urban swimming events, would like to swim from Ping Tom Park in Chinatown to the Main Stem of the Chicago River Downtown sometime this year.
The proposal for a Chicago River open-water swim helped prompt the topic of swimming for the 2017 Chicago River Summit, which takes place Thursday.
"In general we have proposed restarting the 1908 Illinois Athletic Club marathon river swim and began these discussions with the city and other regulating bodies," Macdonald wrote in a February email.
Alter said long-distance swimmers in the early 20th century braved the Chicago River waters, which were "very cold" even in July, by covering their bodies in grease and tar to keep warm.
Many of the races were dominated by Perry McGillivray, a future Olympic gold medal winner and member of the Illinois Athletic Club. Alter said the 1908 race saw the oldest contestant, 55-year old bartender Albert Freese, drown near the finish line.
Also that year, the only woman contestant, Anna Harris, finished the race, taking 17th place. According to the Tribune, almost 100,000 people watched that race, which it described as "one of the most athletic contests that Chicago ever saw."
Although technically it's legal to swim in the Chicago River, there are no public access points for swimmers.
For more information on the noon-4:30 p.m. summit, click here.

Apr 25, 2019

The Heart - Swimmer vs. Runner and Athletic Heart Syndrom

The Heart of a Swimmer  vs. Runner

Regular exercise changes the look and workings of the human heart. And researchers are discovering that different sports affect the heart differently.
Reprinted from Gretchen Reynolds and related articles in Wikipedia

Do world-class swimmers’ hearts function differently than the hearts of elite runners?

A new study finds that the answer may be yes, and the differences, although slight, could be telling and consequential, even for those of us who swim or run at a much less lofty level. 

Cardiologists and exercise scientists already know that regular exercise changes the look and workings of the human heart. The left ventricle, in particular, alters with exercise. This chamber of the heart receives oxygen-rich blood from the lungs and pumps it out to the rest of the body, using a rather strenuous twisting and unspooling motion, as if the ventricle were a sponge being wrung out before springing back into shape.

Exercise, especially aerobic exercise, requires that considerable oxygen be delivered to working muscles, placing high demands on the left ventricle. In response, this part of the heart in athletes typically becomes larger and stronger than in sedentary people and functions more efficiently, filling with blood a little earlier and more fully and untwisting with each heartbeat a bit more rapidly, allowing the heart to pump more blood more quickly.

While almost any exercise can prompt remodeling of the left ventricle over time, different types of exercise often produce subtly different effects. A 2015 study found, for instance, that competitive rowers, whose sport combines endurance and power, had greater muscle mass in their left ventricles than runners, making their hearts strong but potentially less nimble during the twisting that pumps blood to muscles.

These past studies compared the cardiac effects of land-based activities, though, with an emphasis on running. Few have examined swimming, even though it is not only a popular exercise but unique. Swimmers, unlike runners, lie prone, in buoyant water and hold their breaths, all of which could affect cardiac demands and how the heart responds and remakes itself.

So, for the new study, which was published in November in Frontiers in Physiology, researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada and other institutions set out to map the structure and function of elite swimmers’ and runners’ hearts.

The researchers focused on world-class performers because those athletes would have been running or swimming strenuously for years, presumably exaggerating any differential effects of their training, the researchers reasoned.

Eventually they recruited 16 national-team runners and another 16 comparable swimmers, male and female, some of them sprinters and others distance specialists.
They asked the athletes to visit the exercise lab after not exercising for 12 hours and then, when on site, to lie quietly. They checked heart rates and blood pressures and finally examined the athletes’ hearts with echocardiograms, which show both the structure and functioning of the organ.

It turned out, to no one’s surprise, that the athletes, whether runners or swimmers, enjoyed enviable heart health. Their heart rates hovered around 50 beats per minute, with the runners’ rates slightly lower than the swimmers’. But all of the athletes’ heart rates were much lower than is typical for sedentary people, signifying that their hearts were robust.

The athletes also had relatively large, efficient left ventricles, their echocardiograms showed.

But there were interesting if small differences between the swimmers and runners, the researchers found. While all of the athletes’ left ventricles filled with blood earlier than average and untwisted more quickly during each heartbeat, those desirable changes were amplified in the runners. Their ventricles filled even earlier and untwisted more emphatically than the swimmers’ hearts did.

In theory, those differences should allow blood to move from and back to the runners’ hearts more rapidly than would happen inside the swimmers’.

But these differences do not necessarily show that the runners’ hearts worked better than the swimmers’, says Jamie Burr, a professor at the University of Guelph and director of its human performance lab, who conducted the new study with the lead author, Katharine Currie, and others.

Since swimmers exercise in a horizontal position, he says, their hearts do not have to fight gravity to get blood back to the heart, unlike in upright runners. Posture does some of the work for swimmers, and so their hearts reshape themselves only as much as needed for the demands of their sport.

The findings underscore how exquisitely sensitive our bodies are to different types of exercise, Dr. Burr says.

They also might provide a reason for swimmers sometimes to consider logging miles on the road, he says, to intensify the remodeling of their hearts.

Of course, the athletes here were tested while resting, not competing, he says, and it is not clear whether any variations in their ventricles would be meaningful during races.
The study also was cross-sectional, meaning it looked at the athletes only once. They might have been born with unusual cardiac structures that somehow allowed them to excel at their sports, instead of the sports changing their hearts.
Dr. Burr, however, doubts that. Exercise almost certainly remakes our hearts, he says, and he hopes future experiments can tell us more about how each activity affects us and which might be best for different people.

In other articles summarized here from Wikipedia (

We find discussion of Athletic heart syndrome (AHS), also known as athlete's heart, athletic bradycardia, or exercise-induced cardiomegaly is a non-pathological condition commonly seen in sports medicine, in which the human heart is enlarged, and the resting heart rate is lower than normal.

The athlete's heart is associated with physiological remodeling as a consequence of repetitive cardiac loading. Athlete's heart is common in athletes who routinely exercise more than an hour a day, and occurs primarily in endurance athletes, though it can occasionally arise in heavy weight trainers. The condition is generally considered benign, but may occasionally hide a serious medical condition, or may even be mistaken for one. 

Athlete's heart most often does not have any physical symptoms, although an indicator would be a consistently low resting heart rate. Athletes with AHS often do not realize they have the condition unless they undergo specific medical tests, because athlete's heart is a normal, physiological adaptation of the body to the stresses of physical conditioning and aerobic exercise. People diagnosed with athlete's heart commonly display three signs that would usually indicate a heart condition when seen in a regular person: bradycardiacardiomegaly, and cardiac hypertrophy. Bradycardia is a slower than normal heartbeat, at around 40–60 beats per minute. Cardiomegaly is the state of an enlarged heart, and cardiac hypertrophy the thickening of the muscular wall of the heart, specifically the left ventricle, which pumps oxygenated blood to the aorta. Especially during an intensive workout, more blood and oxygen are required to the peripheral tissues of the arms and legs in highly trained athletes' bodies. A larger heart results in higher cardiac output, which also allows it to beat more slowly, as more blood is pumped out with each beat. 

Another sign of athlete's heart syndrome is an S3 gallop, which can be heard through a stethoscope. This sound can be heard as the diastolic pressure of the irregularly shaped heart creates a disordered blood flow. However, if an S4 gallop is heard, the patient should be given immediate attention. An S4 gallop is a stronger and louder sound created by the heart, if diseased in any way, and is typically a sign of a serious medical condition. 


Aug 27, 2018

This swim took 100 years to accomplish

Nothing good in life ever comes easy, Think about the last time someone swam in the Chicago River (other than jumping in drunk during St. Pats day). I, and Doug McConnell - A Long Swim, have been working on this goal for over two years. As long as we trained for swimming the English Channel!

As Muhammad Ali said once, the service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.

How did it feel to finally achieve this important step? Thankful others paved the way, led by Josina Morita, City, MWRD, and Friends of the Chicago River, among them. Humbled knowing this jump took 100 years in the making, almost as long as the cubs to win a world series. You don’t need to eliminate fears or obstacles, they exist, so cross them anyway. Reach the other side One Stroke at a Time!

So where do we go from here? We submit a final application for a full swim in 2019 after the mayoral election, we finish safety planning, we identify key sponsors, raise sponsorship funding, launch an event website, and seek volunteers. We plan to make donations to ALS and Chicago Park District Learn to Swim Program.

Local Channel 7 Chicago News clip of me stroking away down the river in my namesake lime green swim cap: Chicago River Swimming

Aug 6, 2018

Chicago River Swim - Challenge Fundraising

What in the heck is Don Macdonald up to Now?

August 25th, 2018 I will jump in the Chicago River, defying the City's fears the river is toxic, death, legality, and a myriad of other nonsensical urban myths. 

"I'm charging ahead doing something positive for Chicago". 

Admittedly our City needs positive news, good things to happen. As one voice, I can only lead by doing rather than talking. Bringing attention to the our 'City's heart' its less-and-less polluted status, hoping for a brief moment to get people to Stop, Think, Lay Down their Guns, Arguments, and Differences and come watch something nutty!

The river is our city's heart, if we don't take better care of it, like ourselves, were dead. 

Donate to this charity event, this positive and inspirational Chicago Jump and take "One Stroke at a Time" with me to live!

100% of funds raised goes to Friends of the Chicago River.

Donation Link:

Dec 11, 2017

I Dare You ... to Swim in the Chicago River

Swimming in the Chicago River requires two things you had as a kid but lost in adulthood. 

Courage and a sense of adventure. 

Here a short video clip of what could be to inspire you to be that kid again -

We have now been told by scientists (e.g. Argonne Labs) and the US EPA the water in the Chicago River is in good shape and while not perfect isn't much different than other urban waterways and frankly not that much different than water in Lake Michigan, the water we drink.

What the City of Chicago however continues to say is that its toxic, but what they really don't say is that its not and they prefer not to spend further capital to improve the water and enforcement of existing discharge laws and infrastructure upgrades.

Swimming in Lake Michigan while it appears to be safe is a 'play it safe' move. But we all know that's not life, life if messy and comes with risks (which we are all too our public officials try to legislate away). Lake Michigan has the exact same bacteria as the river and from time time the City discharges directly into the lake (our drinking water source) when it rains too hard like this fall 2017.

But life happens. Risk as simple as slipping on ice stepping off a curb in the busy city to walk across the street, flying, driving a car, riding your bike on the Lake Shore bike trail, walking along the new River walk (where there are little to no safety life rings and ladders in case you fall in).

I get it that certain people are afraid, including our government officials, but that's in part what we pay them to do for us, protect us. They're asking us (the organizers of the swims) the tough and right questions doing their job as the public should expect.

So whats risky?

Perhaps the City should focus on preventing more risky behaviors like gun deaths. Lets get some common sense in allowing the river swim like the chicago marathon or triathlon. Its an opportunity to further highlight the billions of dollars already spent on the riverwalk.

Besides who wants to spend $3M on a river condo to hear its "toxic" and see poop floating by?

I think we get the point, now be leaders like most other cities are already doing New York, Boston, San Francisco, etc.