Chicago, IL

One Year of Daily Jumps Into Lake Michigan For Chicago Man

Samantha Kemp-Jackson

365 plunges into Lake Michigan relieves stress brought on by COVID-19

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Dan O'Conor, making his way towards a daily Lake Michigan plungeThe Associated Press

One Chicago bus driver has found a unique way of relieving stress - and hangovers.

For a full 365 days, Dan O’Conor has been jumping into Chicago’s Lake Michigan as a way of countering the stress brought on by the coronavirus. This past Saturday, June 12, O'Conor marked a year of plunges, often frigid but always memorable.

“It was during the pandemic, it was during the protest, it was during an election year...so it was somewhere where I could come down here and block all that noise out and kind of be totally present with me in the lake, and find some moments of Zen,” said O’Conor.

O'Conor is likely not the only person who feels the daily stresses caused by the uncertainty of a global pandemic. He is, however, probably the only one who takes to Chicago's frigid waters to relieve this stress.

Known as the "Great Lake Jumper," Dan's daily jumps into the frigid waters had less than auspicious beginnings, to say the least.

It's a well-known fact that the freezing winters result in a frozen Lake Michigan each year. Yet, in spite of this, the father of three was not deterred. Most recently, O'Conor had to cut a hole in a size that allowed him to slip through the ice chunks so he could achieve his daily goal.

The plunges haven't been without problems, however. After one dive in particular, the intrepid father of three sustained around 20 scrapes on his body.

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A triumphant Dan O'Conor greets the crowd after his 365th leap into Lake MichiganThe Associated Press

A Growing Support For Daily Plunges

An unexpected result of O'Conor's daily jumps was the growing interest in each event. “When I started posting the videos on Twitter and Instagram... I got more wind in my sails there because people starting commenting like ‘This makes my day, it’s nice to see this,” he explains. “People started asking me what this was benefiting and how they could support — and when I say people, I’m talking strangers online, you know?” As with many things in today's digital age, social media played a huge part in this adventurus man's popularity.

“When I started posting the videos on Twitter and Instagram... I got more wind in my sails there because people starting commenting like ‘This makes my day, it’s nice to see this.’”

VIDEO: The "Great Lake Jumper" in Action

It Started With a Hangover

O'Conor explains the unlikely impetus that led him to his daily ritual.

"I started jumping in Lake Michigan on June 13 (2020), that was the first day, and the first day I came down here was because I was hungover. And it felt so good I just started doing it every day," he revealed to ABC7 Localish this past May. "You know, with everything that was happening, you talk about June, it was the pandemic and the politics and the protests, just all of that, I could come down here and dive in the water and it would just kind of clear it, clear the palette and cleanse the day, start anew."

I could come down here [to Lake Michigan] and dive in the water and it would just kind of clear it, clear the palette and cleanse the day, start anew. - Dan O'Conor, discussing his daily jumps into Lake Michigan

STATISTICS: Cold Water Swimming Benefits and Risks

Giving Back to the Community

After realizing that there was an appetite for his daily jumps, O'Conor figured out that he could make his activities worthwhile. As a result, he has raised money for local music venues that have been hit particularly hard during the yearl-long pandemic.

"I'm a big fan of live music and just wanted to support the local venues so I partnered up with Civl Chicago, the Chicago independent venue league, and just all these small venues that really have been affected by COVID," he explains. "They were the first to close and they'll be the last to reopen. And so, I thought it was important to give back to the community that has given me so much joy over the years. So I teamed with them and people started donating right away."

Civl Chicago's mandate and mission is to "advocate on behalf of Chicago's independent performance venues."

From its website, the organization is in strong support of "[securing] the long-term future of these and other venues for the benefit of our communities and emerging artists." Operating in the Windy City for 50 years, "CIVL acts to secure the long-term future of these and other venues for the benefit of our communities and emerging artists."

Ice Swimming Embraced By People of Happiest Country in the World

Polar Bear Plunges Around the World

According to Wikipedia, a "polar bear plunge" is "an event held during the winter where participants enter a body of water despite the low temperature. In the United States, polar bear plunges are usually held to raise money for a charitable organization." Some countries that have annual polar bear plung events include Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States.

VIDEO: Favorite Character Polar Plunge

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I write about Lifestyle content with a focus on Parenting, Society and Trends. I also talk about how things have changed on my podcast, "Parenting Then and Now."

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