On January 22, members of A Long Swim presented P. Hande Ozdinler, PhD, associate professor of Neurology, with a $60,000 donation to help establish the Ellen McConnell Blakeman ALS Research Fellowship. Doug McConnell, co-founder of A Long Swim, was joined by his nephews and A Long Swim Directors, Brenten and Bennett Blakeman, for the check presentation and a laboratory visit with Dr. Ozdinler and Mukesh Gautam, PhD, who will serve as the inaugural fellow.
What is ALS? Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive and fatal neurodegenerative disease. ALS affects an estimated 350,000 people worldwide, with an average survival rate of three years. The degeneration of nerves leads to muscle weakness and impaired speaking, swallowing, and breathing, eventually causing paralysis and death. Currently, there is no cure.
Doug McConnell started A Long Swim with his sister, Ellen McConnell Blakeman, in 2011. In 2006, their father, Dr. David McConnell, passed away from ALS. That same year, Ellen also was diagnosed with ALS, and she sadly passed away in February 2018. This new gift from A Long Swim will create the Ellen McConnell Blakeman ALS Research Fellowship in her memory and will support the breakthrough efforts of the ALS Research Laboratory led by Dr. Ozdinler at the Les Turner ALS Center at Northwestern.
A Long Swim designs and manages open-water swimming events to raise funds for collaborative ALS world-class research. Doug McConnell, with the help of his A Long Swim team, became only the 48th person in history over the age of 50 to swim the English Channel. He accomplished this feat in 14 hours that were divided between heavy waves and pitch black darkness. The success of Doug’s English Channel swim has inspired the A Long Swim team to continue with marathon swims, including the 24-mile length of Tampa Bay, the 21-mile distance of the Catalina Channel in California, and a 29-mile circumnavigation of Manhattan Island in New York City. The swims of the English Channel, the Catalina Channel, and Manhattan Island make up the “Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming,” of which Doug was the 89th person to complete, and only the 15th person worldwide to complete all over the age of 50.