The Legacy Of Jim McDonnell

The Legacy Of Jim McDonnell

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Brian Evans, president of the Reston Masters Swim Team of Virginia, talks about the Jim McDonnell Lake Swim (JMLS). “Every couple of years, our Jim McDonnell Lake Swim Committee likes to make improvements to what is now the JMLS swim weekend here in Northern Virginia, including this year Fitter and Faster Swim Tour – Open Water Swim, our own Race Clinic and Practice Swim, followed by the 1- and 2-mile races the next day.”

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Anything special happening at this year’s Jim McDonnell Lake Swim?

Brian Evans of the Reston Masters Swim Team: This year, the Reston Masters Swim Team will host the World Police & Fire Games Open Water Swim Competition – much like our JMLS course, the WPFG Triathlon – Swim Portion, and continue our support of the swim leg of the Reston Triathlon. It will be a busier-than-usual open water season here in suburban Washington D.C.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Who is Jim McDonnell, the namesake of the event?

Brian Evans of the Reston Masters Swim Team: Jim McDonnell was a long-time Reston, Virginia resident and involved as a coach of Reston summer league swim teams, coaching several of the current Reston Masters Swim Team members when they were young swimmers. He was one of the founding members of Reston Masters Swim Team which started as a team in 1974. In those days, establishing swim teams was a matter of hard work by a small number of people. U.S. Masters Swimming was in its infancy and McDonnell was one of the first who thought the Reston Masters Swim Team should share with charitable organizations and expressed those thoughts shortly before he died.

McDonnell was member of the first Reston Masters Swim Team lake swim meet committee and the lake swim Safety Directory for many years. He swam in the inaugural lake swim in 1988, finishing third in his age group.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What is the history of charitable donations of the event?

Brian Evans of the Reston Masters Swim Team: Jim died of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. That year, the Reston Masters Swim Team changed the name of its event to honor him and began our charitable giving to the Lymphoma research organizations.

That also gave impetus to expand its charitable giving to other organizations. The majority of the JMLS donations go to Lymphoma Research Foundation and the local Reston community through the CornerStones organization, formerly Reston Interfaith. In the past, smaller donations have been given to charities that have an association with current Reston Masters Swim Team members.

The Reston Masters Swim Team has donated over US$50,000 to charities over the past 5 years.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Wetsuits have always been allowed in the event, but it is also a competitive U.S. Masters Swimming event…

Brian Evans of the Reston Masters Swim Team: We have always allowed wetsuits right from the first race in 1988. We have always allowed swimmers to switch their swimwear category at the starting line. Wetsuits are allowed because we have a wide variation in temperatures and we have always wanted to enable swimmers to participate in whatever way they need.

In addition, we want to accommodate athletes new to open water swimming. New Swimmers not sure of the distance or training can race in wetsuit, and possibly reducing fears.

In addition, our team was about 90% triathlete in the early days of the event and wetsuit/non-wetsuit was not an issue. It did take us a long time to equalize the prizes – sometime in the early 2000s.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What is the history of establishing permanent markers that are set in the course, making the course ideal for comparison over times over the decades?

Brian Evans of the Reston Masters Swim Team: In 1988, we started with a 1/4-mile course as an imitation of the 2-mile cable swim in Charlottesville, currently the Chris Greene Cable Lake Swim). This was the event most of our members were familiar with and a good way to get started.

We also used the short length of course as a safety point to help sell the idea of the race to the Reston Association Board of Directors. The 1/4-mile distance gave us good line-of-site to the entire course and less distance to cover for safety. As it turned out, we would have gotten to run the event in any case since the Reston Triathlon was already in place.

We moved to the 1/2-mile course because it was more like the Reston Triathlon course and reduced the number of turns required. In 2003, when we finally changed to the current course, the selling points of swimming on a rope were irrelevant and had been for a long time. We thought it was more like a real open water course. Most of the swimmers liked the new course better than the rope.

1988–1996: 0.25 rope course, 2 mile race
1988-2001: Team Scoring tabulated, 3-person cumulative time team relays by gender ages, and mixed gender ages
1997: Race held at Lake Throreau (across street), Triangular 3 loop, 2 mile course – USMS 2 mile National Championship
1998–2001: 0.5 rope course, 2-mile race in Lake Audubon
2002: 0.5 mile rope course, 2-mile race in Lake Thoreau
2003-Present: 1- and 2-mile races on current course layout
2007: Lake Audubon USMS 1-mile National Championship course
2012: 25th Jim McDonnell Lake Swim Anniversary 1-mile, 2-mile and 5 km races

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