Chicago Policeman Undertakes 1,000 Mile Swim around Lake Michigan

funchion1.jpgChicago police officer and Landmark Forum graduate Nial Funchion has an extraordinary goal planned for June of this year: To swim around the entire perimeter of Lake Michigan, a distance of over 1,000 miles. Funchion’s motives in taking on the swim are not rooted in a daredevil spirit or a desire for glory.

“I am not concerned about the distance, logistics, or variables. I am not concerned about living right on the edge,” he says. “I am concerned about connecting to people’s lives through the efforts of this swim. I am concerned about reaching into life discovering hope.”

The Chicago Sun-Times recently ran a feature story on Funchion’s efforts: 

by John H. White

New Year’s resolutions don’t involve losing weight or stopping smoking for Chicago Police Officer Nial Funchion. The 41-year-old’s goal for 2008 is to swim around Lake Michigan this summer — about 1,000 miles in all.

A veteran long-distance swimmer (he has done the English Channel and paddled between Evanston and Hammond), Funchion’s prep work has included starting each day last summer with a three-mile trek out to the pumping stations and back. He’d leave each morning at 4 a.m., eat an energy bar at the crib, then swim back in time for 7 a.m. roll call.

While swimming the 1,000 miles is a personal goal, he also hopes to inspire others to reach for their own dreams. He plans to post updates every day on his Web site and encourage others to post the progress of their own efforts.

“I want to inspire anybody who wants to take on something new,” he said. “We’ll go through it together.”

funchion2.jpgThe 6-foot, 180-pound Funchion, a diver with the Police Department’s Marine Unit, says that in 2003, he garnered publicity about his 27-mile Evanston-to-Hammond swim (which turned out to be 31 because of winds). That coverage sparked calls and letters from the public, “people who were dealing with obstacles in their lives” including a woman with MS.

“They live their lives trying to keep moving forward. I was humbled,” he said.

And inspired to be a role model.

To get ready for this summer, he swam about 500 miles last year in Lake Michigan and in area pools, including at the University of Illinois at Chicago with a club team. Such exercise revealed shoulder weakness, which he’s strengthening with a Rush University Medical Center therapist using light weights. He swims 6 to 10 miles a day.

Lake swimming is different from pool swimming: In Lake Michigan, “your mind wanders like crazy. You have a conversation with yourself while you’re swimming. Everything is so much bigger and scarier,” he said.

Funchion plans to start June 1, heading south from North Avenue Beach in an insulated wet suit. He’ll swim three hours in the morning and two in the afternoon on six out of every seven days. He hopes to be back by mid-September.

He’s looking for kayak clubs to help guide and watch him and people with Lake Michigan homes who might be willing to put him up at night. (Contact him through his website).

Part of his swimming program is about relieving stress from work, said the 14-year police veteran, who will take a leave of absence.

But Funchion’s other motivation “has to do with living, and not just existing.”

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