Marathon swimmer Doug McConnell circumnavigated the island of Manhattan to clinch the Triple Crown of open water swimming and join an elite club of less than 100 members worldwide.
Although he started swimming as a youngster, the 56-year-old said it is the forbearance that comes with age that helped buoy him through the 29,611 strokes in last month's swim.
"We guys in the 50-to-60 range still have enough competitive drive to make it fun and there are certain things with which we are more patient,” said McConnell.
“Patience is an important element in a nine-hour swim.”
By finishing the 28.5-mile (46-kilometer) swim McConnell, who had already swam the English Channel and the Catalina Channel in California, completed swimming' s Triple Crown. Fewer than 100 swimmers have done it, according to WOWSA (World Open Water Swimming Association).
McConnell admits age has altered his style and he is a different kind of swimmer now.
"I was a competitive butterflyer as a young man. I can't do that anymore,” he said.
Now McConnell, a Chicago-based investment banker, swims to raise money in memory of his father, David, who died from the motor neuron disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2006.
While most of his training involves swimming miles in the pool as much as six days a week for two hours a day, McConnell also lifts weights.
“I also do a lot of yoga and Pilates,” he said. “Swimming is relatively low impact but overuse injuries are an issue.”
American Council on Exercise personal trainer, health and swim coach Cris Dobrosielski said in marathon swimming, the athlete is only as strong as his weakest link.
“If the neck, shoulders and back are not fortified, you'll have interruptions,” said Dobrosielksi, author of the book “Going the Distance.”
Dobrosielksi, who is based in San Diego, California, believes possibilities have opened for the ageing athlete as the fitness industry becomes more aware of what the body can do if it paces itself and does foundational work.
“The question is ‘How to I continue to do what I love when it gets harder and harder?'” he said. “Ironically, the older you get the less time you'll spend doing your activity, if you're smart, and the more time you'll spend doing supportive activities.”
McConnell added that the best preparation cannot control for the waves and wildlife that confront open water swimmers.
“That's why what Diana Nyad did was remarkable on so many levels,” he said of the then 64-year-old swimmer who went from Cuba to Florida in 2013. “Jelly fish come out at night and they really mean to kill you.”
McConnell is currently weighing a 12-mile (19-kilometer) swim across the Strait of Gibraltar.
“You start in Spain and swim to Morocco. Apparently the water can get pretty wild and then there are the container ships and tankers,” he said. “It's considered to be quite a feather in the cap.”
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