Big Shoulders 5K & 2.5K Open Water Swim Classic 


This year, 2018, marked the 20th anniversary for me as race director.  I started in 1998 as co-director with Kathleen Pisula. That year we had 124 swimmers, and used the tried and true “popsicle stick” finisher method.  We’ve made many changes over the years, and learned a ton. I really wanted to have a great event in 2018 to celebrate the milestone.  But there were just too many things stacked against us.

It started at the beginning of the week with a questionable forecast for the winds to pick up as the weekend began. Despite prayers and sacrifices to the appropriate deities, the forecast didn’t improve, but only worsened. I tried to remain calm, while guardedly advising the swimmers that Tom Skilling had a less than hopeful forecast.

Things really started to go south on Friday night. The winds picked up and the National Weather Service issued a beach hazard warning for Chicago. However, we have faced dire predictions in the past and managed to proceed with the race, so we remained cautiously optimistic.  
We arrived at the beach before sunrise Saturday morning to a sight of dozens of flashing lights from emergency vehicles up at Oak Street Beach and in the lake just off the beach. We were extremely saddened to hear that one unfortunate walker was surprised by a wave and knocked into the lake. Coast Guard, Chicago Fire Department and Chicago Police Department personnel and boats were on the scene. This dire omen filled us with dread, but we marched on to set up for the race.

We received word at 6:40 from the Chicago Park District that it could not get its boats out of the harbor with 5-7 foot waves, so the race must be canceled.  We sent word out as soon as we heard. As those on the beach can attest, the conditions at Ohio Street did not appear to be so dire that we would not be able to swim. It was our inability to safely lifeguard the course that led to the cancellation. We deeply regret this, but must reiterate that weather is out of our control, and is part of open water swimming.

Positive takeaways from this year – first, all of you.  So many positive comments of support and understanding. We cannot thank you enough for this – it truly made all the difference in the world. Second, the UIC swimmers and divers.  How great were they and their energy! The spontaneous dance party and non-stop positive energy were inspiring to see.  

Again, we deeply regret having to cancel the race, but safety is our first and greatest priority.  We will be back next year, on September 7, 2019.  Registration will open on March 1st at 10 am CDT.  Mark your calendars and get registered, and we will all look forward to the next chance to take on Big Shoulders Open Water Swim Classic.