A police officer swam 24 miles overnight through the frigid waters near Catalina Island toward California’s shoreline.
His 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.
Nial Funchion, a 19-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department and high school swimming coach, completed the swim Tuesday morning.
“There was a point there where I was looking for an excuse to get out,” he said. “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.”
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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,” Funchion said. “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 includes 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.”