As It Happens

This man just jumped into Lake Michigan for the 365th day in a row

Chicago bus and limo driver jumped into Lake Michigan to much fanfare on Saturday for the 365th day in a row. What started as a hangover cure for Dan O'Conor became a mental health tool and a way to support the local music community.

What started as a hangover cure became a mental health tool and a way to support local musicians

Dan O'Conor, the so-called 'Great Lake Jumper' makes his 365th leap into Lake Michigan on Saturday, with the Chicago skyline visible on the horizon. (Shafkat Anowar/The Associated Press)

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It all started with a hangover.

Chicago bus and limo driver Dan O'Conor jumped into Lake Michigan to much fanfare on Saturday for the 365th day in a row.

O'Conor's daily dips — which have become a regular spectacle at Chicago's Montrose Harbor — began a year ago when he was stressed out about politics and the pandemic, and had a little too much to drink. 

"I was hungover and my wife suggested that I get out of the house. And I got on my bike and peddled about three miles to the lake, and looked at the beautiful clear water and the skyline of Chicago downtown and jumped in and the hangover was gone. I felt a lot better," O'Conor told As It Happens host Carol Off.

Not only did it cure his hangover, but it greatly improved his mood, too. So he decided to keep doing it.

"I think it just evolved into something that was positive and something that I could go down there and clear my mind and not have anything else to deal with — just kind of start the day anew and start afresh," he said.

O'Conor dries himself with a towel after his 364th leap into Lake Michigan, a day before his one-year anniversary plunge. (Shafkat Anowar/The Associated Press)

It didn't take long before O'Conor's private catharsis became a public event, with folks gathering to watch and show their support. 

Then his wife, Margaret O'Conor, had another idea. He should invite local musicians to serenade him into the water. So he teamed up with the Chicago Independent Venue League (CIVL) to co-ordinate performances.

"I thought it was kind of a strange idea. But once it happened … it was great. It was uplifting. It felt like there was more purpose," he said. 

"Instead of just some guy jumped in a lake, now it was some guy jumped and was helping a musician who hadn't played for anyone in a long time."

O'Conor has been featuring the musicians on his Twitter and Instagram feeds and encouraging anyone who wants to support him to donate to CIVL or support Chicago music venues. 

O'Conor makes 363rd leap into Lake Michigan while local artist Plucky Rosenthal serenades with her ukulele. (Shafkat Anowar/The Associated Press)

Those summer dips were fun and easy, but Chicago doesn't stay sunny and warm year-round. 

"I took on the can-do attitude when people told me I couldn't," O'Conor said. "People were [saying], 'Oh, this is all great, but you can't go through the winter. You're not going to be able to do that.' And I said, 'Why not? Why not me?'"

When the lake froze over, O'Conor brought a shovel and a hammer to clear the snow and break open the ice. He also made sure to always bring a friend to watch out for him.

"At one point I brought a ball and chain, an 18-pound bowling ball attached to a bike chain, to smash through the ice, to clear the ice, to make a hole big enough for me to jump into," he said.

O'Conor and his wife, Margaret O'Conor, share a kiss before heading out for the one-year anniversary dive. It was Margaret's idea to use the dives as a way to promote the local music scene during pandemic closures. (Shafkat Anowar/The Associated Press)

But the sun was shining when he did his one-year anniversary dive Saturday. O'Conor's wife made an event out of it, organizing food and drinks for onlookers, while Wilco's Jeff Tweedy serenaded the crowd.

"It felt fantastic, just the support that I felt from the Chicago music community and just the Chicago community in general," he said.

"[It] was amazing to see so many friendly faces out, out, cheering me on."

O'Conor closes his eyes while floating in Lake Michigan. He says he plans to keep on diving. (Shafkat Anowar/The Associated Press)

O'Conor took Sunday off from his dives, he said, but he's not stopping any time soon.

"I went yesterday and I'm going to go down today," he said. "It's beautiful out."


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. 

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