From AIC’s dirt diamond to the International Swimming Hall of Fame, Dr. Marcy MacDonald ’85 helps others achieve success.
Dream, prepare, succeed.” That concise motto holds a lot of power for Marcy MacDonald ’85, DPM, a 2005 inductee to the Yellow Jacket’s Athletic Hall of Fame. During her time in Springfield, MacDonald was a standout softball player, scouted at a high school game by Coach Judy Groff. “A really good game,” led to Groff recruiting her, MacDonald said. She hadn’t previously considered attending AIC, but Groff being there that day “was very fortunate because I flourished at AIC.”
Though MacDonald was a talented ball player, she also had a deep love for the water that went back to her childhood growing up in Manchester, Connecticut. MacDonald says she had just assumed she would follow her sister to the University of Connecticut, where perhaps she’d swim. “I grew up on the other side of Title IX, and there really were not as many opportunities for women [to compete on the collegiate stage]. ”
But the fortuitous meeting with Groff changed the entire trajectory of MacDonald’s life. AIC’s lack of a swim team and Groff’s discovery of her softball skills meant that MacDonald made her contribution on the field rather than in the pool during her collegiate athletic career. After graduating from AIC with a degree in biology, she matriculated at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine in Manhattan where she earned her Doctorate of Podiatric Medicine in 1989.
That move to New York for podiatry school was also fortuitous. There, she rekindled her love of swimming by joining the 92nd Street Y and before long found herself coaching, too. While living in New York, she “met some fantastic people,” including Marcia Cleveland, a fellow swimmer who would go on to swim the English Channel and write one of the most helpful guides to training for the endeavor ever penned. MacDonald soon realized the English Channel should probably be in her sights, too.
“I was always led back to the water. In my brain, I didn’t think that much about it, but everything just led there,” she said of her journey to the 21-mile wide Channel, which she first crossed the hard way in 1994. That was back before online forums and GPS devices made training and navigation the slightly easier affairs they are today. “I still have copies of telegrams that were sent to me after my first Channel swim,” she says, marking a stark contrast to her most recent swim in 2018 that was broadcast around the world in real-time via social media.
In that first exposure, MacDonald fell in love with Channel swimming, and she has since completed a total of 16 solo crossings. Several of her successes came in the form of ultra-grueling double-crossings—swimming from England to France and back to England without stopping. All of her swims are completed without the assistance of a wetsuit, and she can’t touch the accompanying support boat or her crew—any contact immediately disqualifies the attempt.
MacDonald has also completed several other long-distance swims around the world. She became only the 16th person and the first American to complete a 22.2-mile solo crossing of Scotland’s brutally cold Loch Ness. She has also completed five 28.5-mile circumnavigations of Manhattan Island and swum the 41 miles around Jersey Island in the English Channel. Not all of her swims are pure adventure; some are also designed to give back, and MacDonald has raised thousands of dollars for several charities through her swimming. St. Vincent Medical Center’s annual 25-kilometer SWIM Across the Sound between Port Jefferson, New York and Bridgeport, Connecticut is a regular feature on her calendar.
Affectionately nicknamed the “American Queen of the English Channel” for completing more crossings than any other American, and in recognition of her extraordinary achievements in the sport of marathon swimming, MacDonald was inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 2005.
MacDonald’s quarter century of enviable swimming successes has helped shape a resurgence of interest in this sport by inspiring other would-be marathoners to push their limits. But perhaps her biggest contribution has come in the form of passing her love for the water on to the hundreds of children she’s taught and coached over the years.
Soon after moving back to Connecticut in 1992 to establish her private podiatry practice—she’s one of those rare doctors who still make house calls so she can better support her older or less mobile patients—MacDonald took a part-time coaching position with a fledgling swimming program at the East Hartford Y. “I can’t stand hearing about people drowning,” she said, and knew she could do something to change those statistics. Her enthusiasm has helped the program flourish, and 26 years later, she’s still coaching and teaching others to swim and love the water. “I do it for the love of the sport. I don’t do it for the money. It’s my coffee money,” she said of the small stipend she earns.
Although many open water swimmers are accustomed to toiling in obscurity, MacDonald has been enjoying a bit of the limelight lately. In 2018, to celebrate its native superstar, the city of Manchester renamed its West Side Pool the Marcy MacDonald Pool. And in May 2019, she received her biggest honor to date: induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
As proud as she is of her induction, MacDonald is quick to give credit to others who have helped her along the way. “It’s not just about me. It’s about who has been with me,” she said, with special credit going to her partner, Janet Galya, and Mike Oram, her English Channel boat pilot.
And though her induction elevates her to the highest podium in the sport of swimming—a dream few other open water swimmers have achieved—MacDonald doesn’t intend to rest on her laurels. If she can dream it, she can prepare for it and succeed, for the sheer love of swimming. “Swimming truly has been a blessing to me,” she said.
By Elaine Howley