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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Doug McConnell Digs Deep vs. A Zillion Little Barbs

Kelp and dolphins. Turtles and sharks. Salt water and tides. Whales and swells.

These are things that open water swimmers and triathletes who live in the central part of America usually do not think about as they train in pools and compete in lakes.

But the environment changes - dramatically - once they head to the seashores and are faced with marine life along with the ebb and flow of the ocean.

Sharks are the more obvious apex predator that can strike fear in newcomers to the ocean. But frankly shark sightings are rare even among ocean swimmers. However, what is much more likely are the stings from jellyfish.

There are over 200 different species of jellyfish in the world's oceans. Each jellyfish has a particular type of venom and means to inject that venom in human skin. The venom - delivered by tiny barbs (nematocysts) is injected automatically upon an encounter to the skin and can be immediately felt by swimmers. The stings can be uncomfortable or discomforting at best - if the swimmer is lucky. But some of the venom leads to severe pain which can be dangerous and potentially lethal.

Each swimmer who is stung with a jellyfish has their own story and their own impressions of how the venom feels. When hit by Lion's Mane jellyfish or Portuguese man o war, some swimmers feel and "an intense burning sensation". Some swimmers feel paralysis in their lower limbs if hit by a box jellyfish while others have a pain threshold that can withstand dozens of stings and is beyond the imagination of most humans.

Douglas McConnell, who grew up far away from the oceans in the American Midwest, felt sensations that were somewhere between "it tingled a bit" to "it felt like a branding iron". He explains, "Growing up in the Midwest, jellyfish were a whole new thing to me. In fact, other than playing in the waves, salt water was pretty new, too. My first real swim in salt water was for the 2011 Tampa Bay Marathon Swim.

I felt little stingers periodically that day, but when I was 9,000 strokes into that swim (note: McConnell is a stroke counter who took 32,000 strokes to complete the 24-mile swim), I was nailed by a serious jelly. It wrapped around my left forearm. I never saw the body of the thing, but my first reaction was that it felt like an electrical shock. I immediately had symptoms; my forearm started to swell, my stomach tied up pretty badly, and I started sneezing uncontrollably.

What he was experiencing was an allergic reaction that some swimmers experience. Everyone is different depending on their own body chemistry. "[My wife] and kids were on the boat. They didn’t know what to do, but the sneezing made Susan realize that she had some Sudafed. I ate a couple of those and waited for the symptoms to ease. I also had to pull the nemo things off my arm which left some lash-like welts. It took several days for the welts, and the rash and itching around the welts, to heal.

The sneezing part was weird, but what worried me the most was the stomach cramps. I figured if I couldn’t process my nutrition drink, it was going to be a short day. One of my kids had heard about urine as an antidote, and obliged me by peeing in an empty Gatorade bottle. I have read since then that urine doesn’t really help. So, I figured I would muscle through another 1,000 strokes and see if I was better. After 1,000 strokes, I still wasn’t right, but I was OK enough not to get in the boat, so I just kept going. I was aware of the stomach issue the whole rest of the day.

McConnell used his 10 hour 44 minute Tampa Bay Marathon Swim as a trial run for his English Channel attempt. "I knew I needed to load up on Sudafed for several days before the swim in order to be ready for [the Channel]. I also got one of those Epi-Pens, but even my doctor said that it would be pretty worthless for the kinds of jellies we would encounter in the English Channel.

The 53-year-old entrepreneur prepared for the worse, but got pretty lucky out between England and France. In the English Channel, I was so worried about jellies because they are so unpredictable and the swimmer is so powerless. I had also talked to John Muenzer who has a real horror story about them in the English Channel. So, I loaded up on the Sudafed before we left, and as luck would have it, I only felt one jelly on the whole swim. It bounced off my upper chest at 30,000 strokes (out of the total of 42,000) and was gone. We had pretty rough water in England, so that may be part of the reason. Susan and the kids were on that boat, too, and reported that they saw a number of them; my son Gordy still talks about the ones that he saw in terms of color and size ('pink basketballs' and 'blue garbage can lids')."

But where he got lucky in the English Channel, his 12 hour 41 minute Catalina Channel crossing was a completely different story. "Catalina was jellyfish heaven. I had loaded up on the Sudafed again. I had slathered up with that SafeSea before I got in the water. I have no idea if it helped or not. Again, I never see the jellies, but I could sure feel them. They went in clusters (John calls them shoals) so you would feel them every ten or twelve strokes for several hundred strokes. Then I would not feel any for two miles. Then, you’d go through another cluster of them again. Marcia Cleveland reported a similar experience in Santa Barbara the year before.

His invertebrate marine nemeses were not large, just numerous. I didn’t have any of the long-legged wraparound types in Catalina, just a zillion little guys. Most times, the little ones would sting my hands or upper chest and be gone, but in Catalina I was very aware of them on my face. That strip of skin between your cap and goggles, as well as my cheeks got lots of zingers. The weirdest, though, were the ones that would wrap around the eye piece of my goggles. They looked like they were the size between big coins and hockey pucks, and they would wrap around and just rest on my nose. Of course, they sting like crazy, so when I got those, I would stop and pull them off. It happened many times. In fact, one of our crew members reminds when I stopped to complain about a jellyfish-on-the-goggles and I had one caught in the goggles right then.

For me, jellyfish are all part of the challenge. I can say that because I have never been in a lift-threatening situation, but I am not going to change my behavior or avoid certain swims because of them. I feel like I have learned how to prepare, do what I can, and let ‘er rip."

McConnell also has the scars on his skin as remnants of his jellyfish encounters. As many swimmers do, the scars are a visible means that they belong to a pretty special club. And there are always great stories behind the scars. "I am pretty proud of the jellyfish lash-scars, some of which are still there."

Swimmers, triathletes, surfers, beach goers, paddle boarders, fishermen, crew and kayakers can tell their own jellyfish stories at jellyfish sting database at IGotStung.com.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association

1 comment:

  1. Last year was tough in the Catalina Channel. Worst I have ever felt on the Pacific Coast...it was like swimming in fire. Doug was right!


Thank you very much for your interest in the world of open water swimming.

The Staff of the World Open Water Swimming Association

2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference

Learn more...
Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.


The Global Open Water Swimming Conference is a conference on the sport of open water swimming, marathon swimming and swimming during triathlons and multi-sport endurance events.

The conference which has been attended by enthusiasts and luminaries from 6 continents, is devoted to providing information about the latest trends, race tactics, training techniques, equipment, psychological preparation, race organization and safety practices used in the sports of open water swimming, marathon swimming and triathlons.

The conference's mission is to provide opportunities to listen and meet many of the world's most foremost experts in open water swimming, and to meet and discuss the sport among swimmers, coaches, administrators, event organizers, sponsors, vendors, officials, escort pilots, and volunteers from kayakers to safety personnel.

Dozens of presentations at the 2014 Conference at the Mount Stuart House cover numerous aspects of the vast and growing world of open water swimming where attendees can learn and share the latest trends, race tactics, training modalities, swimming techniques, equipment, race organization, logistics, operations, and safety practices for open water swimming as a solo swimmer, competitive athlete, fitness swimmer, masters swimmer, triathlete, multi-sport athlete, administrator, race promoter, sponsor or referee.

The conference was first held in Long Beach, California as part of the 2010 USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships. It has since been held on the Queen Mary in California, at Columbia University and the United Nations in New York City, and in Cork, Ireland. This year in September, it comes to another iconic location, the Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute in Scotland.

"The Global Open Water Swimming Conference was started due to the desire and need for athletes, coaches, referees, administrators, race directors, promoters and sponsors from around the world to share, collect and learn information about the growing sports of open water swimming, marathon swimming and triathlons," said founder Steven Munatones. "Other swimming conferences usually offering nothing on open water swimming or perhaps a speech or two, but we thought open water swimming deserves its own global conference. It is great that the community shares its information via the online social network, but there is nothing like meeting other open water swimming enthusiasts face-to-face and talking about the sport from morning to night."

Speakers at the conference include English Channel swimmers, ice swimmers, record holders, renowned coaches, world champions, professional marathon swimmers, renowned race directors, officials and administrators from the Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania.

"Because the audience is passionate and educated about the sport and its finest practitioners, the Global Open Water Swimming Conference is also the location of the induction ceremonies for the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame and the annual WOWSA Awards that recognize the World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year, the World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year, the World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year, and the World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year. Special Lifetime Achievement Awards are also occasionally presented to individuals who have made significant contributions to the sport over their career."

The 2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference Programme

Wednesday, September 17th
Leave Glasgow to commence 2-day tour of Scotland [closest international airport is Glasgow]

Thursday, September 18th
Stay Mainland, North of Scotland

Friday, September 19th
14:00 - Swim Loch Lomond
17:00 - Head to Isle of Bute
19:30 - Scottish Banquet
21:30 - Dinner Dance

Saturday, September 20th
09:00 - Registration & Coffee
10:00 - Speeches
12:20 - Lunch and WOWSA Awards
13:40 – Speeches
15:40 - Round Table
19:00 - International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Dinner & Induction Ceremony

Sunday, September 21st
09:00 - Registration & Coffee
10:00 - Speeches
14:30 - Swim in St Ninian's Bay on the Isle of Bute

The luminaries of the open water swimming world who will be honored in Scotland will include:

* Sandra Bucha (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer and International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer
* Jon Erikson (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Claudio Plit (Argentina), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Judith van Berkel-de Njis (Netherlands), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* David Yudovin (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Mercedes Gleitze (Great Britain), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* George Young (Canada), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Dale Petranech (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Contributor
* Melissa Cunningham (Australia), 2013 Irving Davids-Captain Roger Wheeler Memorial Award winner
* Vojislav Mijić (Serbia), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer
* James Anderson (U.S.A.), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Administrator
* Dr. Jane Katz (U.S.A.), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Administrator
* Indonesian Swimming Federation, , International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Organisation
* Elizabeth Fry (U.S.A.), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer
* Pádraig Mallon (Ireland), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year
* Olga Kozydub (Russia), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year
* Bering Strait Swim (international team), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year
* International Ice Swimming Association (Ram Barkai, founder, South Africa), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year

For additional articles on the 2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference, visit:

* Olga Kozydub To Be Honored In Scotland
* Pádraig Mallon To Be Honored In Mount Stuart Castle
* Mount Stuart House, Splendid Setting For Swimming
* Colleen Blair To Kick-off Global Open Water Swimming Conference
* The Man Who Swims Better Than He Walks
* Joining In The Sea Goddess At The Hall Of Fame
* Mercedes Gleitze To Be Honored In Scotland
* The Incredible Career Of Merceded Gleitze
* Jon Erikson To Be Honoured In Florida
* The Incredible Career Of Mercedes Gleitze
* St Ninian's Bay To Host International Swim Conference

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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