Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hanging with the future (story by Mike Peal)

Earlier this month, I was invited to be a guest speaker at a Journalism class at UCONN; yes, the same school where the famous NCAA Women's Basketball Champions hail.
The electricity on campus, makes everyone feel young and full of energy.

I met with my swimming friend and UCONN professor Terese Karmel, she told me "all guys in the class". What happened to the girls, no one wants to write. We went into class and the young men quickly warmed up after introductions, and the questions began to fire, the 90 minutes flew by.

Their assignment was to write an article about me, I'll be sharing their insights every so often, today is the first, I know the guys have worked over the words many times, there may be some mistakes, please overlook.

BY MIKE PEAL
Marcy MacDonald is a swimmer who has not been in the water in two months.
She is – figuratively and literally – a fish out of water.
MacDonald, a podiatrist originally from Manchester, Conn., succumbed to a bicycle, of all things, when a ride in Hawaii took a turn for the worse in September.  MacDonald’s right shin was ripped open by her bike pedal – “it had these big, long spikes on it, which I’d never seen before,” she said. 
The result?  A wound that needed 40 stitches to close.
The injury has left her stuck at home, where she says she mostly watches the news and “too much” of the television show, “Mr. Ed.”  In addition, she cannot work out and train as she is normally used to – instead of a full-body workout, the injury limits her ability to work out her lower body.
            “I love to train,” MacDonald said.  “That’s what drives me crazy with this injury.  I can’t train like I’m used to.”
            MacDonald’s love of training should come as no surprise, considering how swimming is such a big part of her life.  MacDonald became the first American woman ever to do a double-crossing of the English Channel – swimming from England to France and back – in the summer of 2001.  She accomplished the feat again in 2004.  MacDonald currently holds the all-time crossings record for American women with 10.  At the age of 47, she sits just four crossings away from tying Peter Jurzynski’s record for the most crossings of the channel by an American.
            MacDonald says she not only wants to break Juryznski’s record, but also successfully complete a triple – swimming from England to France, then back to England, then back to France.  She has attempted the triple several times but has been thwarted by injuries and bad weather.
“I want to break the record and I want to do a triple,” she said.  “I don’t know if I’ll ever do it, but I know that if I do I’ll break the record as the oldest to do it.”
            MacDonald doesn’t just consider swimming to be a hobby, but rather her “passion.”  She regularly swims three to four hours a day and often participates in various long-distance, open water swimming events.  Besides the English Channel, she has swum around the island of Manhattan (a 28.5-mile swim) and the island of Jersey, just off the coast of France.
            However, MacDonald has accepted that she is, above all, “a really good Channel swimmer.”
            The English Channel is a 21-mile swim in salt water, where the water temperature varies between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit – one of the colder swims MacDonald usually does.  MacDonald successfully pulled off her first crossing of the channel in 1994.  Back then, she didn’t even know what a “double” was.  It was only at the taunting of an English trainer that she found out what it was.
            “Freda Streeter came up to me and told me I couldn’t even do one crossing, let alone a double,” MacDonald said.  “I hadn’t even heard of a double before then.”
            “She didn’t like Americans much; we train differently from the British, ” MacDonald said with a laugh.  “That was before we were friends.  Now she’s like a mother to me.”
            Channel swims are long and grueling:  the all-time record for a single crossing is 6 hours and 57 minutes.  They can also be boring and lonely.  On most swims, a Channel swimmer will be the only swimmer in the water, with only her boat and crew drifting slowly beside her.  And even then, the boat and crew offer little comfort.
            “I like to swim as far away from the boat as possible,” MacDonald said.  “It just smells so bad.”
            The boat can also represent failure.  By the rules, a swimmer cannot touch the boat under any circumstances while he or she is in the water.  If a swimmer touches the boat, the swim is immediately aborted.
            “That’s one of the very hardest things to do, to touch the boat and say ‘I’m done,’” MacDonald said.
            Eating can also be difficult out on the Channel.  MacDonald said, since she burns over 800 calories an hour swimming the Channel, she needs a lot of calories to take in throughout the course of a swim.  MacDonald typically mixes something calorie- and nutrient-heavy together with tea or and honey and drinks the mixture while treading water on her back.
            To keep herself from drowning in boredom, MacDonald counts her strokes in groups of 10.  By yelling out a number every 10 strokes, MacDonald and her team once counted the number of strokes it took her to cross the Channel: 45,000.
            Other than the monotony and the nutrition concerns, MacDonald says swimming the Channel is relaxing, especially at night, when all she can see are lights both out in the sea and underneath her.  The clarity of the Channel, MacDonald said, gives her the opportunity to see clearly about 20 feet in all directions through the water.
            “I’d know if there’s a big animal coming at me, at the very least,” she said.  “But I don’t have to worry about that much, since the Channel doesn’t have many big animals like you’d find in warmer waters.”
            “In the Channel, I’m a pretty big fish,” she said.
            However, this “big fish” still finds herself dry and in “Mr. Ed” overload as her 48th birthday approaches.  In early November, MacDonald said she is optimistic she could be ready to swim again in three weeks, which could give her a birthday gift she’s been eagerly hoping for.
            “That’s my birthday wish, to swim again,” she said.  “I don’t care if it’s only for a minute.  I just want to get back in the water.”

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Swimming for Homes for the Brave

After spending the past 20 years paddling from Dover to France, it is time to venture into new waters, while helping some special people.
Soon, I will be traveling with my A-team to Scotland to swim the length of the famous Loch Ness.
As always, I try to help a Foundation raise funds and awareness and I thank you for interest and support.
I am deeply troubled with the thought of homeless individuals, especially in our US Veteran population.

That is why I am teaming up with our Connecticut-based “Homes for the Brave”. Can you imagine not having a place to call home?

Here is more information about Homes for the Brave! -Facebook pages – https://www.facebook.com/pages/ABRIHomes-for-the-Brave/199613606735630?ref=hl

- Annual Appeal with more information about our financials and programs- http://www.homesforthebrave.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/HFTB-2014-Annual-Report-FINAL.pdf

-Check donations can be mailed to the following address:
Homes for the Brave
655 Park Avenue
Bridgeport, CT 06604

- Donations can be made online as well: https://homesforthebrave.isecuresites.com/products/index.php?type=1110

Please write “Loch Ness Swim/Marcy” to track your donation.


I will always be dedicating my swimming to all those battling cancer and in the memory of 4 special people in my life. Cancer first hit my family when I was young. My grand-aunt Eleanor Kersavage, passed away with uterine cancer and my Auntie Bea Halchak battled with brain cancer.

On January 1, 2002, our LEHY family lost Nikki Giampolo to bone cancer, just turning 16 years old. Her spirit still lives on in our East Hartford swim team.

In July of 2009, my brother-in-law, Gregory Allen Urban, who passed away, after a valient battle with lung cancer. I can see him now, talking about cars and projects around the house, music and his family.

I know Aunties, Eleanor and Bea, Nikki, Greg and all the angels will help me CUT through all this water this summer.

The St. Vincent's Medical Center Foundation, based in Bridgeport, CT provides financial support for the needs that Health insurance companies don't cover, in addition to providing affordable cancer screening, wigs, medication and other things to make life easier for those suffering with cancer and their families.

Please make a donation, and thank you.

Online donations can be made at: http://give.stvincents.org

or you can send a check through the post to:

Swim Across the Sound
St. Vincent's Medical Center Foundation
2800 Main Street
Bridgeport, CT 06606
(203)576-5451

Thank you so very much, peace and good health to all.