One day last June, a Chicago man — who was anxious about the COVID-19 pandemic, troubled by politics, and hungover after celebrating his son’s high school graduation — jumped into Lake Michigan to clear his head and get some exercise.
It felt good, so Dan O’Conor kept diving into Lake Michigan — every day. Earlier this week, he celebrated jumping into the lake every single day for 365 days in a row!
“I started jumping in Lake Michigan on June 13, 2020 … it felt so good I just started doing it every day,” O’Conor told ABC 7 Chicago. “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.”
The Easy Jumps
When O’Conor — now known as the “Great Lake Jumper” — started his daily plunge into Lake Michigan, it was a relatively easy affair.
Every morning, he would ride his bike three miles to Lake Michigan, to a spot where he could see the Chicago skyline to the south. Then he jumped off a concrete barrier into the 50-degree water. The jump was about 15 feet, so he was even able to execute a flip into the water.
Jumping Through The Seasons
O’Conor’s daily dives continued into Chicago’s cold winter — only differently.
In warmer weather, O’Conor rode his bike to the lake. As winter approached, however, he began driving to the lake — and started taking a shovel and other tools.
“I was walking a quarter to half a mile depending on where I was parking and where I was going to jump in,” O’Conor told Insider. “I started taking a shovel because there could be ice in the water and I’d have to chip out a big enough space for me to jump into or lower myself into the water.”
As you can imagine, it wasn’t always an easy dive. O’Conor told ABC News that when he got home after one winter-morning’s dive, he found 20 scrapes and cuts on his body.
One important note: O’Conor tried to make his winter daily dives as safe as possible by always taking another person along to make sure he was safe.
The More, The Merrier
Eventually, other people began to join O’Conor. Some jumped into the water, as well, while others simply gathered to watch.
There was even musical accompaniment because O’Conor began inviting local bands and musicians — many of whom were out of work due to the pandemic — to perform as he jumped into the lake. He even partnered with the Chicago Independent Venue League to raise money for local live music venues that were closed due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
“I’m a big fan of live music, and just wanted to support the local venues, so I partnered up with Chicago Independent Venue League and all these small venues that really have been affected by COVID,” O’Conor told ABC 7 Chicago. “They were the first to close, and they’ll be the last to reopen. 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.”
Now that O’Conor has jumped into Lake Michigan every single day for 365 days, the question on everyone’s mind is this: Will he keep jumping into the lake?
O’Conor told Insider that his daily dives have helped strengthen his mental health, and while he doesn’t plan to keep doing it every day, he’ll still find time to jump into the lake.