Chicago Cop Honors Fallen Brethren With Long-Distance Swim Off Calif. Coast

Nial Funchion becomes the 70th person to earn the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming

By Ron Rokhy
|  Wednesday, Aug 14, 2013  |  Updated 9:33 PM CDT
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Officer Swims 24 Miles to Honor Fallen Brethren

Chicago police officer Nial Funchion, hours before his 12-hour swim from Catalina Island to California's shoreline on Aug. 13, 2013.

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A Chicago police officer on Tuesday morning completed a 24-mile swim through the frigid waters near Catalina Island toward California’s shoreline.

Nial Funchion's feat was meant to raise awareness for fallen officers and complete a prestigious trio of long-distance swims, but two hours into the 12-hour mission, he nearly gave up.

"There was a point there where I was looking for an excuse to get out," said Funchion, a 19-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department and high school swimming coach. "I couldn’t rationalize a reason, though."

Water temperatures along the route reached into the mid-60s. Funchion met his goal of finishing in less than 12 hours by a mere 3 seconds.

Funchion credited Tim Gallagher, his cameraman, with encouraging him to finish.

"Two hours into the swim, Nial told me something he never had before, that he couldn’t finish,” Gallagher said. "I was taken aback and just asked him if he could go a little further. He said that he could, and never expressed to me that he had a desire to end the swim again."

The swim was meant to raise awareness for the Brotherhood for the Fallen, a non-profit organization that supports the families of officers killed in the line of duty.

Funchion started supporting the group after several of his good friends died or were injured in the line of duty, according to a statement from Funchion’s website, Beyond Breakwalls.

Three years ago, a paraplegic colleague of Funchion’s told the veteran officer he was his hero. That show of respect was the final bit of inspiration he needed.

"What that officer said to be really jarred me loose and picked me back up personally," explained Funchion. "That was the start. It was pretty powerful."

Not only did the swim honor Funchion’s fallen brethren, it made him the 70th person to ever complete the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming -- a trifecta of challenging aquatic treks that include a 21-mile swim across the English Channel, a 28.5-mile swim around Manhattan Island and the Catalina Island swim.

In 2011, Funchion swam across the Strait of Gibraltar, and soon after, he completed the second leg of the Triple Crown by circumnavigating Manhattan Island.

Funchion completed the first leg in 1992, when he conquered the English Channel swim in such a way that he was referred to as the "Fastest American Swimmer," according to a news release.

When asked how he’s able to swim such long distances without faltering, Funchion said being in the right state of mind is key.

"You build your strength up in a pool, but then when you get out into the open water, you find your threshold," Funchion said. "You think of nothing, and that’s the perfect place you want to be. Don’t let anything steal your peace."

Funchion was featured in a January NBC Chicago report when he was among several first responders who helped rescue a dog from a frozen Chicago harbor.

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