Nov 25, 2014

When Great Swim Coaches go to the 'Big Pool'

Coach Rathke

I really don't recall when Brian Rathke become a role model, it seemed like he was there forever sometimes boldly in front and other time quietly in the background, but always there. 

Somewhere in those early AAU age group years he kept order. Those formative silly days, he corralled us from running around the pool deck, stopped us from snapping each other with towels to often, kept the atomic sit-ups and if got into real trouble the famous "60 second" treatment wasn't far behind. By todays standards... well thats something we swimmers keep to ourselves. Lets suffice it to say with Brian you knew where the rules were and where you stood.

As we got older he kept us on task both in school and in the pool, keeping us focused on doing well while teaching us life lessons. He used swimming as a teaching tool to focus us on how to achieve goals, do well in life, sometimes outside of our comfort zone.

I remember early on learning that he was one of the fastest 50 butter flyers in the world, until this guy named Mark Spitz came along. I was always awed by this and impressed as he would challenge us kids to races and easily whack us off one at a time. I don't think anyone ever beat him? 

At the same time he somehow understood that fun and tradition was essential to life, a way to mark our path for others to follow. He let us play, grow, and have fun. Yet you always knew he expected more, better, faster. Somehow he fostered a group of kids into fierce competitors that respected each other making us into winners with the winningest duel meet record in the history of Indiana and perhaps the country. Yet none of us were olympians, a few state champions, but always a team. Lets be honest we were average kids he molded into winners.

As we graduated and went our own ways, some kept in touch regularly, others less so but as the years came on and we would run into one another the conversation would naturally drift back to coach. What’s he up to, how’s he doing, still swimming – nope but his kids are, who’s winning for him now, etc. Some went on to coach and even became more successful. Was he the only influence? Of course not.  Chris Shorthouse himself a kind persistent leader was always present. Older swimmers who learned under Brian gave lessons to us younger kids along the way, names like Gibson, Neff, and Fult to name a few.

Swimming is one of the unique activities in life that forces someone to display themselves publicly forcing you to become confident, a better human both inside and out. Bryan took each one of us, like an unpainted canvass and added color, texture, waves. Working with parents, teachers, and friends to support and guide us to adulthood.

Nowhere across this spectrum of lives do you find a loser, a failure. Sure we are all different but thats life. That’s really the amazing takeaway.

Thank you coach. Ill see you someday, but not just yet, Ive got some more laps to swim.

Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the water. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions. 

Brian saw each of us perhaps like a Starfish?
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching.  As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.  The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning!  May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.” The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
Adapted from The Star Throwerby Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

Nov 12, 2014

Young Hearts 4 Life - ECG Screening of active children and young adults Program

There are some things you cannot place an economic value on, a child’s life if one of them

Dr. Marek, an internationally recognized cardiologist, here with Ultra marathon open water swimmer Don Macdonald, has taught physicians across America how to run screenings for students and athletes. Over 10,000 community volunteers.

Young Hearts for Life® (YH4L) and One Stroke at a Time supported a recent Barrington High School (Chicagoland) Cardiac Screening Program Event, YH4L nationally known for its unique model, has screened over 110,000 students for conditions that cause sudden cardiac death.  This milestone is a first for any heart screening program of this kind in the United States.

Each week, sudden cardiac death claims the lives of more than 60 young adults in the United States.  YH4L has been a leader the medical community to address this problem in the Chicago area.

The YH4L screening program was founded by Dr. Joseph Marek in 2006 and is well known for its unique model that uses trained community volunteers to deliver a low cost, efficient screening program.

To date, over 1,900 students screened through YH4L have been identified as “at risk” students.  Of those, hundreds were found to have life threatening conditions, including Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, Long QT Syndrome, Wolff-Parkinson- White Syndrome (WPW), Brugada Syndrome, and Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia.

Living proof (one of the 1%er's) to the value of finding these hidden health challenges. I encourage you to consider having your kids screened every two years and while your at it yourself.

Jul 7, 2014

Barrington Ultra Marathon Swimmer helps others achieve their Dreams

Master Swimmer Don Macdonald knows in his heart that he would be gearing up to swim the English Channel if not for a cardiac arrhythmia that very nearly killed him.

Learning how to "take it easy" after the near-fatal episode, the 52-year Barrington man kayaked 28.5 miles around Manhattan Island on Saturday. Macdonald and his marathon swimming buddy and fellow Barrington resident, Doug McConnell, 56, have completed several similar grueling swims. But for the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, Macdonald merely offered support from the kayak as McConnell swam the course to raise money in the fight against ALS.

"Kayaking," Macdonald says dismissively, "is very easy."

With the tide helping propel his kayak, Macdonald says his effort was more emotional than physical.

"There's value in helping other people achieve their dreams," Macdonald says, recalling how he rooted as his investment banker friend swam the English Channel in 2011 just before a storm wiped out Macdonald's scheduled shot at fame. "You want to revel in his success, and at the same time I say, 'Oh, man, I wish that could be me. I know I could do it.'"

A doctor on the medical team that saved Macdonald's life says the environmental engineer appeared to be in shape for that 2011 trek across the choppy, cold water that separates England from France.

"Fortunately, he didn't get to do the English Channel," says Dr. George Christy, a cardiologist with Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington. "Swimming that distance in the cold of water for that long of time, there is a likelihood something adverse would have happened."

The bad weather that scuttled Macdonald's Channel swim gave the swimmer time to discover that a lingering pain in his shoulder blades was not just a training ache but a symptom of coronary disease.

"Here I am, a guy who swims 25 miles in 60-degree open water, and you're telling me I have clogged arteries?" Macdonald asked in disbelief.

Doctors inserted stents to open his narrowed arteries and put Macdonald on medication to regulate his heart.

"I'm fixed. They put the stents in. Let's go. Woo-hoo!" he remembers thinking. After a year of treatment and several stress tests on his heart, Macdonald was cleared to train again for a Channel swim this September.

"Even fit people develop coronary disease," says Christy, who adds that Macdonald developed another problem. "It's a false invulnerability people get, especially when they are endurance athletes. There's an aura of invincibility to some of these guys, and you can't blame them."

Having set swimming records during his high school career in Goshen, Indiana, competed on the swim team at Ball State University, played on the water polo team at Indiana University and enjoyed success as a master swimmer beating younger athletes, a confident Macdonald backed off his medications. "I made the decision to go with the less potent (medication), and it almost cost me my life," he says.

"He goes out for a jog when it's 100 degrees, which I wouldn't recommend for anybody," Christy says. Macdonald ran up to his home in the midst of a block party and "crashed," the doctor says, explaining how the athlete's heart went into ventricular fibrillation, an uncoordinated heart rhythm, which can be fatal.

A retired nurse on the scene performed CPR and a medical emergency team got him to Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital's emergency room within minutes. Knowing Macdonald's tolerance for long swims in cold water, doctors used a device to put him in a hypothermic state that lowered his body temperature.

"Neurological recovery was key," says Christy, noting that hypothermia slows the metabolic process that can cause cognitive damage when the brain goes without oxygen. Tests showed his heart and blood pressure were good. But Macdonald's life was in danger for days.

"Is he or is he not going to wake up? It was all guesswork until we warmed him up," Christy says.

"I wake up three or four days later," Macdonald says. "I don't remember a thing. I don't remember seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Nothing."

Knowing how close he came to dying and leaving behind his daughter, Rachel, 16, and his wife, Jennifer, Macdonald says he wants others to know the value of stress tests and good cardiac care.

"The harsh reality is very scary," say Macdonald, who practices kayaking in Lake Zurich and on Lake Michigan, but misses swimming. "I have been in the swimming pool three times, and just sort of paddled around. I'd be lying to you if I didn't say it was scary."

Long, open-water swims have been part of his life since high school, when he and pal Steve Conder swam 8 miles across Lake Wawasee in Indiana. Macdonald has completed swims from Alcatraz off the coast of San Francisco and lighthouses off the coast of Boston. He and McConnell swam marathon races in Crystal Lake, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"We were beating kids in their 20s and 30s pretty regularly," Macdonald says. "One night at the dinner table, drinking some wine, we said, 'How about the English Channel?'"

McConnell became the 48th person older than 50 to swim the Channel and continues to do well in marathon swims. Macdonald, who has a device implanted in his chest to shock him if his heart gets out of rhythm, stays in the kayak.

"If it goes off when you're facedown in the water, you could drown. After all this, to die drowning, that would be really embarrassing," Macdonald says. "But I just can't sit on a floaty and hang around. It's not me."

When talk turns to his English Channel quest, he repeats the mantra, "Sometimes you have to let that go." Then he pauses.

"I'll tell you," Macdonald says, softening his voice as if he's sharing a secret. "I'm not so sure about that."

Reprinted with modifications from Daily Herald, Burt Constable.

Jun 30, 2014

Barrington resident Don Macdonald does not call himself an adrenaline junkie, but rather more of an adventurer – who has learned the art of restraint.

Macdonald, 52, previously swam the length of Tampa Bay, the Boston Harbor, Lake Zurich, Lake Michigan, off the coast of California’s Seal Beach and Manhattan Beach, and in the La Hoya Cove off the coast of San Diego.

Reprinted: Barrington Courier Bridget O'Shea
“I think water gives me a sense of freedom, but it’s a very quiet, lonely freedom,” said McDonald, noting that he has sometimes shared this freedom with jellyfish, dolphins and sea lions.
However, a different type of challenge presented itself to MacDonald in 2011, when he began to experience cardiac issues after returning from a trip overseas, where he planned to swim the English Channel but was unable to due to weather conditions.
While taking a break from swimming, MacDonald began experiencing shoulder, arm and chest pain, which he said he was not too worried about.
“When you’re training 10K a day for swimming, your body is going to ache,” he said.
However, it turned out that MacDonald did have mild heart issues. After seeing his doctor, who then referred him to a cardiologist, MacDonald was treated with stents for narrowed arteries, given a typical medication regimen and stress tests. He was later approved to begin training again for the English Channel.
“During that time, I was actually out jogging and I had a major cardiac arrhythmia event that put me in the hospital for 10 days,” he said. “I was standing at a block party after I ran and I collapsed. This kind of came out of the blue, which is why it was so challenging to wrap my head around.”
Luckily, a retired nurse was at the party and began resuscitating him.
“She saved my life,” he said.
MacDonald was taken to Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital, where cardiologists implanted a small defibrillator device just beneath his skin to detect any abnormalities and reset electrical impulses.
“It’s been challenging physically and emotionally,” said MacDonald, who was used to training by swimming up to 26 miles at a time in 50-degree water.
But instead of focusing on any setbacks, MacDonald is now using his experience as an example of the importance of proper health screenings and evaluations for open water swimmers, triathletes and others that engage in vigorous sports.
“People have to pay attention to what they are doing to their bodies,” he said. “Everybody needs to consider their health situation carefully. Here’s a guy who could swim the English Channel and look what happened to me.”
Particularly with high endurance sports, MacDonald said, a feeling of being indestructible can sometimes develop, leading to a false sense of security. He uses himself as an example.
“Before this, it had gotten to the point where I was no longer afraid to swim in any body of water regardless of seals, sharks or the temperature of the water,” he said. “The biggest thing is that you go from being able to do anything and everything to, ‘OK, what do I do now?’”
Since his 2011 stay at Good Shepherd, MacDonald has reached out to the community, working with high schools, middle schools and the District 220 Educational Foundation by speaking to young people as a living example of the importance of cardiac and other medical tests and screenings for athletes.
While less vigorous exercise is now part of his recovery, MacDonald, who has swum since he was a young child, has not lost his love for the water.
On June 28, he will kayak the perimeter of Manhattan Island in New York as his friend Doug McConnell swims in the Manhattan Island
Marathon Swim.
“Instead of curling up and being the wilting flower, I decided that instead of swimming every day, I would do kayaking,” he said.
MacDonald will kayak next to a 9-foot boat with food, water and medical supplies for the swimmers. His main objective, he said, is the safety of his friend.
MacDonald has kayaking experience, most notably the 28 miles from Catalina Island to Los Angeles, a ride that began in the middle of the night.
“It was pitch black,” he said. “You could hear dolphins and whales.”
Originally from Goshen, Ind., MacDonald said he moved to Barrington from Chicago about 15 years ago and he and his wife enjoy raising their daughter here.
“It’s a great community,” he said, describing Barrington as a place where you can go to the city, go horseback riding or go into town for ice cream.
“It truly has everything you want from a small town,” he said. “It’s kind of the quintessential experience.”

Jun 8, 2014

Recovery from an Almost fatal Cardia Arrhythmia - Manhattan Island Marathon Race from the Kayakers Perspective

The 28.5 kayaking trip around the Island of Manhattan will be both grueling and scenic and more importantly bringing awareness to Two important Causes (literally near and dear to my heart) - Cardiac Arrhythmia Prevention and Doug McConnell's ALS charity efforts.

Doug’s swim will be accompanied by an escort boat with two crew members (Susan and Cliff Wilson I believe) as well as the support of a kayak manned by his long-time training partner, Don Macdonald. 

Bob Lee and others will be biking around the Island as well all supporting the cause and friend in the quest for raising money and awareness.

Here is a short video clip of the perspective from the kayaker and support crew for Manhattan Island.

Don's Journey since the English Channel has taken a twisted path.

While starting my training for a second attempt the English Channel that was planned for this fall (2014) I had a sudden cardiac arrhythmia event, collapsed, received life saving help. I was found to have arrhythmia problems perhaps brought on by high intensity exercise, that had gone undetected perhaps for years despite years of grueling training and hours submerged in ice cold water and distances.

Well I survived and now find myself with an implanted ICD to prevent such future events. I was running, which I jokingly say was the problem, instead of swimming. "I think ICD stands for I Can't Die".

However my experience now takes me down a path relatively untraveled since only about 1% of such incidents leave survivor's. So onto the next chapter of my swimming journey just One Stroke At A Time and Advocate Health System, Cardiac Care Services.

I am hopeful to return to the pool in the near future. But until then kayaking for Doug and his cause is great. We been at his for five years and like open water swimming, you have to adapt. As Dori says...just keep swimming, swimming, swimming, or in my case kayaking, kayaking, and kayaking.

Doug's ALS Challenge:

After another long year of training, the A Long Swim Team is planning for the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, a 28.5-mile circumnavigation of the most prominent island that makes up New York City, in June 2014.  In the unique world of marathon swimming, successfully completing swims across the English Channel, The Catalina Channel and around Manhattan Island is considered the “Triple Crown.”  If he completes the third leg of that challenge, Doug will be in a select club of fewer than 100 swimmers with that honor.

May 30, 2014

Barrington man takes on ‘Triple Crown’ challenge with swim around Manhattan

Don Macdonald Kayak's alongside Doug McConnell here pictured in the middle of the pacific ocean between Catalina Island and mainland California in 2013.

With Doug's swim, the third leg of the Triple Crown bearing down in several weeks, we have been focused on extending training time in open water. While Doug has the Yeoman's work in the water this time, Im in the kayak again, and support crew in the boat. Both exposed to the weather (what ever condition it is) for 9-10 hours. 

The biggest concern we have for Doug is safety. The rivers around New York Harbor are very congested and dangerous with large ocean going ships, ferries - docking, embarking at all hours. These ships also generate sizable waves that multiply both in height and length bouncing off sea walls causing both kayaker and swimmer tremendous stress to stay on course. 

The other challenge are the piers. These are not your standard piers but large loading docks, commercial businesses extending into the river sometimes 100 plus yards disrupting the flow of water, swirling ebbs, causing the kayaker and swimmer direction problems and immediate danger from a collision. 

"There's no room for error, the current never stops and at 2-4 MPH, you will get dragged into a pier pole, debris, or ship very easily", said Don Macdonald who recently went on a test run while in New York. 

As a marathon swimmer myself, I know its essential for me to remain focused on all aspects of Doug's safety but not outwardly show the slightest change in my tempo, direction and even mood as things happen. And they always do. 

As these swims progress, its not uncommon for swimmers to become depressed from the solitude of the effort coupled with the physical exhaustion. As the reach 6-8 hours mark, the swimmer hits "the wall" both physically and mentally. The slightest perception of stress can be detected from the swimmer, stress from changes to direction, hitting some debris floating in the water, swallowing some polluted water ... can weigh heavily on the swimmers mental outlook. 

For both of us, this will be another test of resilience, forged in the desire of pushing oneself to help others. 
Sometimes your simply alone

Article Reprinted from Sun Times
As harsh, cold and seemingly unending as the winter was, few were clamoring to take long dips in area lakes as of mid-May.
Doug McConnell, however, already was swimming about 20 miles a week, often in lakes registering thermometer readings in the 50s and 60s, including Lake Michigan.
No, he wasn’t wearing a wetsuit. And no, he’s not crazy. He’s on a mission.
On June 28, the 56-year-old will attempt what is known in marathon swimming circles as the MIMS, the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. Swimming long distances in breathtakingly, bone-achingly cold lakes is all part of the training.
McConnell, of Barrington, already swam across the English and Catalina channels. Only the MIMS — a 28.5-mile swim around Manhattan through the Hudson and Harlem rivers — stands between McConnell and the Triple Crown of open water swimming. If he makes it, he’ll join just more than a dozen others who have completed all three while over the age of 50.
Perhaps equally as remarkable, through a fundraising organization he started with his swimming friend and fellow Barrington resident Don Macdonald, McConnell has turned pulling and kicking his way through waves into more than $225,000 for the Les Turner ALS Foundation.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, claimed the life of McConnell’s father, David, in 2006. Another of his relatives now battles ALS.
“It’s just dreadful,” McConnell said of the disease, which affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. “It’s a slow motion shipwreck. To watch anybody you love go through that, to see them just go to pieces like that, it’s hard to watch.”
Proceeds from McConnell’s organization, A Long Swim, go to the Les Turner ALS Laboratory to advance treatments and find a cure. Researchers are making great strides, McConnell said.
“It’s a pretty gratifying and exciting time to be supporting research into a disease that has frustrated so many for such a long time,” he said. “There are drug trials going on. There are new discoveries about upper motor neurons.”
Dr. P. Hande Ozdinler is director of the Les Turner ALS Laboratory and an assistant professor in the Department of Neurology at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University.
Support received through McConnell and A Long Swim has been vital, Ozdinler said. With it, Ozdinler developed a method of making corticospinal motor neurons fluorescent. The labeling makes it easier for doctors to discover what goes wrong in patients with ALS and other motor neuron-affecting diseases.
Because of the headway that’s been made, the National Institutes of Health has granted $3 million to further studies at the lab, Ozdinler said.
“Before we got the NIH money, the only support was from the Les Turner Foundation, which depends heavily on people like Doug,” Ozdinler said. “His efforts make a difference.”
McConnell, meanwhile, is focused on ensuring that his body is well-prepared for the MIMS. Though he swims throughout the year at Foglia YMCA, recent conditioning has meant 6 a.m. loops around Lake Zurich and adventures in Lake Michigan, as well.
“It’s just such a lift to be outside in the sunshine,” he said. “The water’s been cold, but boy oh boy, to be out there and watch the sun come up, it’s just fabulous.”
McConnell expects to encounter chilly waters in New York, which “had the same crazy winter we did,” he said.
“The only way to get acclimated to cold water is to spend a lot of time in cold water,” McConnell continued. “It can be unpleasant and so forth, but the acclimation really works.”
McConnell noted that hypothermia is not a condition to be taken lightly. His swims are monitored. The crew often includes his wife, Susan, and their four children, ranging in age from 16 to 26. Macdonald also typically is there, riding alongside in a kayak.
The Manhattan Island Marathon Swim will start at Battery Park, with a view of the Statue of Liberty in the harbor. Twenty-three swimmers are signed up to participate on June 28, McConnell said. Others are swimming June 14 and July 12.
Start time is 7:20 a.m. Central time.
“They time it carefully around an incoming tide,” McConnell said. “It’s what pushes you north up the East River. You swim on the East River to about 120th or 130th Street, and then you cut left. You take the Harlem River northwest and swim that to 210th Street.
“That’s where the Harlem dumps into the Hudson, and you take that back to Battery Park,” he said. “This is 28.5 miles. However, because of the tidal push on the East River and the downstream ride on the Hudson, most people do it in eight or nine hours. It swims more like 17 or 18 miles rather than 28.
“That, of course, is all dependent upon the day and how well you’re able to hook into the currents.”
McConnell said he looks forward to the event, which also is a race. He crossed the English Channel — a feat that included 25-knot winds and 5-foot waves as well as pitch-black darkness — in 14 hours and 18 minutes. The Catalina Channel took 12 hours, 41 minutes.
McConnell said that turning a personal goal into a charitable endeavor adds to his motivation.
The response from both corporations and individuals has been tremendous. Minneapolis-based Medtronic is among his sponsors. The company makes medical devices, including the PRESTIGE disc, one of which was implanted in McConnell’s spine in 2009.
“From individuals, we had some $5 donations and one that was $5,000. The message and the disease really resonate with people,” McConnell said. “Many of the donations were from good friends of my father’s. I have another family member battling with ALS now, and a lot of old friends of hers are donating.”
Anyone interested in learning more or donating is encouraged to visit
“The funding that [McConnell] received has turned into something really big and really good,” Northwestern’s Ozdinler said. “Without him and the support of the foundation, I don’t think we would have been able to generate the tools we have today.”

Jan 3, 2014

The Greatest Gift of All - saving Someone's Life

In the New Year 

Learn How to save someones life 

Learn How to Perform CPR

2012, Triathlete dies in NY swim.

As athletes we rarely consider this will happen to ourselves much less someone we know know or a fellow competitor. I can assure you it does, and when you least expect it and sometimes from the fittest people.

Do you know how to perform CPR, use a defibrillator? I did not. 

Try this video and see what you think. You may just save a life.... 

We have all walked by the Red Cross sign in malls, schools and airports indicating where a heart machine is located, learn to use one and maybe pay it forward.