Open-water swim in Chicago River to be held, a first in 100 years – NBC Chicago

After 12 years of planning, organizers say an open water swim in the Chicago River is expected to take place in September, after receiving approval from the U.S. Coast Guard.

Swimmers may be hesitant to immediately jump into the river’s murky waters, as some worry about bacteria in untreated sewage. On rainy days, runoff pollution may occur and swimmers may encounter boat traffic.

“We wouldn’t want to encourage people to swim in the river willy-nilly because you want to make sure you’re safe,” said Margaret Frisbie of Friends of the Chicago River, a nonprofit organization focused on health of the river.

That’s why organizers have drawn up plans to ensure water quality and safety ahead of the open water swim, the first in the Chicago River in more than 100 years. They will track water quality every 15 minutes, using data from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and the nonprofit water innovation center Current.

“We are going to be as transparent as possible when it comes to water quality. Ultimately, if a swimmer just isn’t comfortable in the Chicago River, then we understand,” said Doug McConnell, world-renowned swimmer and event organizer.

In the “unlikely” event of a combined sewer overflow, where sewage flows into waterways, organizers would cancel the event, McConnell said.

Frisbie said the Chicago River’s water quality has improved over the years and sees open water swimming as part of a “cultural shift” in river views.

“It demonstrates that the river is a place where people can recreate safely,” Frisbie said.

On September 22, the Chicago River will be closed to all commercial and recreational boat traffic, according to organizers.

Five hundred swimmers are expected to participate in the Chicago River Swim, which begins between the Clark and Dearborn Street bridges and will run a loop course between State Street on the east and Wolf Point on the west. They can opt for a one or two mile swim.

Applications opened Tuesday and 100 swimmers signed up on the first day, McConnell said. The app includes a “rigorous questionnaire” about swimming experience to find qualified athletes, he said.

“We’re looking for people who have done triathlons, where the swim leg is sort of comparable to this,” McConnell said.

Proceeds from the Chicago River Swim will also support local learn-to-swim programs for at-risk youth. The event also raises funds for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis research at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Swimming contrasts perfectly with ALS, where the person begins to lose control of their muscles,” McConnell said.

McConnell is no stranger to these efforts. He completed a 29-mile loop around Manhattan Island in New York. He considers the Chicago River a “perfect example” of this experience.

“What a unique way to celebrate being a Chicagoan,” McConnell said. “We all walked past the beautiful buildings and bridges as well as the river itself.”

NBC Chicago

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