Block Club Chicago:
DOWNTOWN — It’s not too often you see someone going for a swim in the Chicago River.
The river — particularly the Downtown portion — is far cleaner than it was in years past, when it was murky and full of litter. But it’s still home to bacteria, like any natural body of water, and there’s boaters, kayakers and others to contend with.
But that didn’t stop one man from diving in wearing nothing but his underwear Friday as people looked on from the Riverwalk, as shown in a video shared with Block Club Chicago.
The video shows the man standing on the railing of the Dearborn Street Bridge, giving a thumbs up and then doing a backflip off the railing. Afterwards, he swims over to the Riverwalk, where he climbs out of the water and speaks with a man.
Andy Donakowski, of Lincoln Square, recorded the video while out for lunch Friday near the river. Donakowski saw the man standing on the bridge in nothing but his red skivvies and thought, “It looks like something is probably gonna happen.”
Donakowski watched as the man waited for a boat to pass by and then back-flipped into the water.
“I thought it was kind of cool. It seemed like a good day for a dip. It was pretty hot,” Donakowski said. “I didn’t know if he was gonna belly flop, what hitting the water would be like. Seems a little crazy, but I think he just wanted to try to cool off or something.”
Temperatures soared into the 90s on Friday, with the humidity making it feel like it was about 115 degrees.
Donakowski was not sure where the man’s clothes were, saying he didn’t see them stashed and thinks the man walked up to the bridge in his underwear.
Donakowski, who used to work with Friends of the Chicago River, said he’s organized events where politicians jump into the city’s famous river — but he’s never seen anyone else casually in the water.
And though Donakowski said he knows the river is “pretty clean” most of the time, he’s worried there could have been sewage backed up into it during the man’s swim due to recent storms.
“I haven’t seen anyone just jump in and go for a dip,” Donakowski said. “I don’t know that I would do it too casually right now. I’d want it to be cleaner for probably a longer period of time than I think it has been. I’d rather … know that [the sewage has] stopped before I jump in.”
Allison Fore, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, said it’s taken years to improve the quality of Chicago’s water, but that improvement is “evident” and it’s led to more recreational activity and economic development along the city’s waterways.
Still, maybe don’t go for a swim.
“However, our river also contains wildlife and bacteria. Anyone considering contact with water bodies such as the [Chicago Area Waterway System] should consult with their physician,” Fore said. “Although water quality is improved, many hazards exist on the waterways due to boat traffic, currents, temperature and lack of ingress and egress to name a few.
“In short, the [waterway] is not designed for swimming.”
Just days before the man’s dip, two men who’d been planning a largescale swim in the river had their plans nixed by the city. One of the organizers, open-swim expert Doug McConnell, said they’d hoped to have about 200 people swim 2.4 miles in the river as a way of celebrating how it’s cleaner, according to the Sun-Times.
But Thomas Minarik, an aquatic biologist with the water reclamation district, told the Sun-Times the river is still home to bacteria and its boat traffic and currents can still make the river unsafe for swimmers.