A Song of Redemption

September 10, 2016 - Chicago, IL - One year ago, the race crew and participants of the 25th Annual Big Shoulders Open Water Swim Classic were sorely disappointed when Mother Nature played a terrible trick on them.  She pounded Ohio Street Beach with sheets of rain, 25-40 mph gusts of wind, and worst of all, 8-9 foot waves.  To cap it off, she spun up a waterspout and let it dance across the course during the time the race would have been held.  Fortunately for all, the Chicago Park District Lifeguarding crew had our best interests in sight, and called the race, keeping us all safe and able to swim another day.

Fast forward to this year. For starters, the open water swimming community gave Big Shoulders a mulligan, selling out the 26th running of the race in 2 days.  Then, on September 10, 2016,  the forecast leading up to the race was unsettled, with a 60% chance of rain that morning.  The swimmers and the race volunteers were undaunted, and prepared to push on.  In answer to our prayers, sacrifices and overall rubbing of the worry beads, the heavens delivered a wonderful morning, and the light rain before and after the race did nothing to dampen spirits.  In fact, with calm 70 degree water and a 70 degree air temperature, the swimmers had a perfectly splendid time on Lake Michigan. 

Those brave enough and able to join us on the beach turned in fast times on what was certainly every bit of a 2.5K swim course.  (Some speculate that the Chicago Park District felt bad about last year's cancellation and wanted to make sure everyone got their money's worth).  In the main event, Adam Dawkins turned in another jaw dropping victory with a time of 1:00:59, a full 3 plus minutes ahead of the next fastest competitor.  Craig Frederiksen took second (1:04:10), with Richard Vadivia (1:04:24) rounding out the top 3 with the next 4 swimmers bunched up within 11 seconds of the medal stand. On the women's side of the 5K, Victoria Rian took top honors in 1:08:52, with Adrienne Bicek in second (1:09:25), and Susie Shuck (1:10:02) finishing third.  For the wetsuit division, Chicago Masters' own Bob Lewis won it (1:07.14) with Anthony Colalillo in second (1:07:20) and Patrick Donovan (1:07:24) in third. For the women, Caitlin Madsen cross the line first (1:11:55), Kristen Courtney (1:18:59) was second and Lisa Huff (1:19:54) came in third.

For the 2.5K swim, the men's division's Corey McMeeking won it with a time of 33:28, with Marc Hensel in second and Jim Tuchler in third.  For the women, Liz Dillman (34:00) won it once again, with Erin Tobias in second and Andreea Ianoli in third. The wetsuit winners were Andrew LaValle (32:17) for the men and Jennifer Vallo (39:12) for the women.  

Big Shoulders owes a big thanks to its wonderful volunteers, including Bob Lewis, Rob Ellis, Alison Pease, Casey Platt, Mary Gebhart, Alex Boutov, Mark Caffray, Chris Courtois, Tim Loeffler, Susan Bromberg, Mike Tubb and the Men's and Women's Swim Teams from UIC.  Their willingness to pitch in and help out was invaluable, and their ability to do it with a smile made it a pleasure to be a part of this great event.  

Big Shoulders also owes thanks to its wonderful sponsors: A3, TriSwim, Nature's Fury Sports Drink, Finis, XTERRA Wetsuits, Nature's Path Nutrition bars, SwimTrek, West Superior Training, Kirk Eye Center, Big Shoulders BBQ, Starbucks, Natatometry and Sheean Design.  Without the support of these great companies, we would not be able to put on this event.  Finally, thanks to all those who came out to swim and support the swimmers.  Your enthusiasm, energy, dedication to Big Shoulders and overall love of open water swimming fuels Big Shoulders and keeps it at the top of open water swimming events in the USA.

We hope you will join us next year on September 9, 2017 for the 27th Annual Big Shoulders Open Water Swim Classic. As always, registration will open on March 1, 2017.

Results are available below:

2.5K Age Group     2.5K Overall     2.5K No Wetsuit     2.5K Wetsuit

5K Age Group     5K Overall     5K No Wetsuit     5K Wetsuit


In 2015, the race committee and the Chicago Park District were forced to cancel Big Shoulders 2015 for the first time in its 25 year history due to unprecedented 8-10 foot waves, sideways, sheeting rain and the appearance of water spouts on the lake.


For many of Big Shoulders’ glorious 24 years, conditions have been picture perfect, with sunny blue skies, smooth, calm water, and water temperatures in the mid to high 70s.  But that was not what Mother Nature had in mind this year.  A big storm blew through the night before, sending Lake Michigan into a swirling, churning fit.  Saturday morning dawned with 1-3 foot waves, partly cloudy skies with winds out of the north at 10 mph, and water temperatures that ranged from 66 at the shore to 63 or colder along the outside of the course, with pockets that felt much colder. 

Big Shoulders Swimmers were undaunted, however, and marched into the water determined to push right back and accept Lake Michigan’s challenge.  Swimmers fought through some weeds in the first leg’s chop, and did their best to stay on course in the second leg despite a very determined north wind.  The second buoy was placed a bit further north than in past years, forcing swimmers to take the 3 ft. waves head on as they battled to make the turn.  Their efforts were rewarded by the lake, however, with those same waves allowing them to body surf the last half mile back to shore.

The rough conditions and cold temps slowed the Big Shoulders contingent down a bit, but 770 rough and ready swimmers finished the 5K or 2.5K events.  Adam Dawkins returned to the winner’s circle in the 5K with a time of 1:04:32, followed by Justin Chiles (1:05:13) and Aaron Gabriel (1:05:49).  On the women’s side Adrienne Bicek took the top honors at 1:05:17, with Danielle Schumacher (1:05:57) in second and Mallory Mead (1:06:28) in third.  Chicago Masters’ own Bob Lewis grabbed the top spot in the wetsuit division (1:06:45), and Ann Berres-Olivotti won the honor for the women’s wetsuit division (1:13:49).

In the 2.5K, Marc Hensel won it with a time of 34:11, followed by Ruben Figueres (35:17) in second and Brendan Joyce (35:23) in third.  Liz Dillman won the event for the ladies in a time of 36:21, with Lauren Hodder (36:36) coming in second and Kelly Perry in third (38:33).  The wetsuit winner, Albert LaValle, turned in the fastest overall time at 33:43, while Michelle Nadel won it for the women in a time of 37:45.  Congratulations to Ross Bogue, who channeled past flyers Tom Boettcher and Dan Projansky and won the 5K butterfly division as its only entrant. 

But Big Shoulders isn’t only about the top dogs and their fast times.  Big Shoulders is also about those swimmers who came to Ohio Street Beach and accepted the challenge set forth by this year’s rugged conditions.  People like Claudia Solis-Lemus, who overcame her fears and completed her first open water swim with help of Chicago Masters swim angel, Mark Stori.  Big Shoulders is about guys like Paul Stalter, who has battled cancer over the past few years, and wrote on our facebook page, “I didn’t care about my time, or the difficulty I felt, but that I had accomplished something amazing.”  Way to go Paul!

Big Shoulders is also about relationships and lasting friendships.  We said goodbye to our friends, Jon Erikson and Chris Clarke – long time open water studs who passed away this past summer.  We also said goodbye to our founder and friend, Bill Mulliken, the Olympic Gold Medalist who started Big Shoulders and guided Chicago Masters for decades.  We honored Bill by placing “WDM” on the sleeves of this year’s race shirts. 

Long time friends have used Big Shoulders as a chance to meet up, share a meal, take on the challenge, and bask in the glow of it.  Friends like Lennart Larsson, who came all the way from Sweden to swim with Terry Laughlin (yep, the Total Immersion guy).  And Big Shoulders would not be what it is without the massive contingent from Noblesville, IN (Team NASTI), the impressive and fast crowd from Indy Swimfit, the huge crew that coach Sue Welker brings in from Naperville, and this year’s crew from Miami of Ohio that drove up in Bill Mulliken’s honor. 

Big Shoulders would also like to acknowledge the swimmers who came out, gave it their all, but couldn’t quite finish the job due to this year’s tough conditions.  Sometimes, it’s not finishing that matters, but being willing to toe the line and give it a shot, despite the fact that it wasn’t your day.

Big Shoulders Race Committee would like to thank the Chicago Park District Lifeguards for a spectacular job in keeping us all safe on a very challenging day.  Thanks also goes out to the University of Illinois at Chicago Men’s and Women’s swimmers and coaches who came out and provided the bulk of our volunteer force with smiles on their faces. They earned their delicious Big Shoulders BBQ ribs, just like those who swam.  We also need to thank our sponsor, Finis, who once again stepped up and was a major presence on the beach and behind the scenes.  Thanks also to our many other fantastic sponsors: Protein Plus; XTerra Wetsuits; Einstein Bagels; Nature’s Path; Malibu C; Greater Than Sports Drink; Big Shoulders BBQ; Fitness Formula Clubs; Starbucks; TriSlide; Foggie; Sheean Design and Human Labs.

And thanks to all of those who signed up and came out for Big Shoulders 2014.  Our beneficiaries, the UIC Men’s and Women’s swim teams and the Alliance for the Great Lakes also thank you.

Big Shoulders 2015 will be held September 12, 2015 and is an event not to be missed.  It is the 25th year of Big Shoulders, and it will be the 5K National Championship for USMS.  Registration will open on March 1st, and will undoubtedly sell out in a matter of days.  Circle your calendar, and we’ll see you next year!

The Big Shoulders Race Committee

For results, please review files below or visit or

2.5K Age Group     2.5K Overall     2.5K No Wetsuit     2.5K Wetsuit

5K Age Group     5K Overall     5K No Wetsuit     5K Wetsuit


Check it out! - Big Shoulders listed as one of the
7 Open Water Swims to do before you die!


Apropos of the first weekend of Bears football in Chicago, this year's race truly split the uprights.  The Big Shoulders Race Committee were working the worry beads and sacrificing to the open water gods for good conditions.  The National Weather Service had issued rip tide warnings for the Thursday leading up to the Saturday swim.  Amazingly, the winds died down, the sun shone for most of the morning, the water was a beautiful 72, and the air climbed from the low 70s into the 80s.  And just as incredibly, the National Weather Service issued a fresh set of rip tide warnings for the day after the race.  In other words, Big Shoulders' conditions split the uprights.

Those great conditions certainly yielded some insanely fast times.  In the women's 5K, visiting sponsor/supporter Luane Rowe, who got her chops swimming off the coast of Australia as a young Sheila, took the top spot in an impressive 1:00:43.  Megan Ryther came in second with a time of 1:03.10, and Chicago Masters' own Marlena Tonelli took third.  On the men's side, Northwestern phenom Jordy Wilimovsky crossed the Finis Finish line first in a time of 58:43, followed by perennial top finisher Adam Dawkins (59:43) and Justin Chiles (1:02:11).  The 5K wetsuit division also saw fast times, with Michael Yoch finishing first (1:01:36), Big Shoulders race committee member and Chicago Masters swimmer Bob Lewis was second (1:03:44), and Todd Walter came in third (1:07:31).  On the women's side, the wetsuit division winner was Ann Berrres-Olivotti (1:08:50), Megan Ridley was second (1:15:52), and Michelle Milne was third (1:17:13). 

The top 2.5K swimmers also turned in very impressive times, with Liz Dillman taking off like a shot at the start to win the women's (and overall) with a time of 31:35.  Mary Bartek was second (36:26) and Lauren Hodder was third (36:56).  On the men's side, Graeme Spence won with a time of 31:49.  Rafal Szukala finished second (32:35), and Marc Hensel was third (32:53).  John Martin took the top spot for the men in the wetsuit division in a time of 32:41, and Kris Berger won the wetsuit division for the women's 2.5K.

For the middle-of-the-packers, Big Shoulders 2013 was a glorious event as well.  The blue skies shone brightly above the skyline as these adventurers rounded the course.  And while it was a bit humbling to see the "Pink Menace" of the Top 50 elite wave swimmers go flying past for their second lap, the joy these swimmers felt at getting to enjoy the best Chicago has to offer in open water swimming allowed them to ignore these pink-capped marvels and stroke on. 

Missing this year from the water were butterfly maniacs Tom Boettcher and Dan Projansky.  Perhaps in answer to their absence, Erin O'Connell showed up and swam the entire 5K breastroke.  Apparently freestyle isn't hard enough for these folks. 

Also showing off their Big Shoulders were several swimmers in the disabled category.  Heidi Musser was born without sight, and completed the swim yet again thanks to her hard work, dedication, and a little help from guide Marcia Cleveland.  Several other amazing swims were witnessed, and we'd love to write about them.  If you overcame adversity, please let us know about it. 

Big Shoulders would also like to thank our amazing volunteers, the UIC Men's and Women's Swimming and Diving Teams, the Northwestern University Men's and Women's Swimming and Diving Teams, and countless others with a bit more life experience, including Paul Moniak, Noelle Wilhite, Bob Lewis, Scott Reeves, Tim Kelly, David Hines, Casey Platt, Mark Caffray, Candace Cham, Jean Ridgeway, Russ Meyer, Carl Saxton, and our race director, Chris Sheean.  Chris needs to also thank his wife and family for allowing him to be preoccupied with Big Shoulders for a month every year for the past 15 years.

Finally, thanks so much to our amazing sponsors.  Finis stepped up and had a huge presence on the beach (literally and figuratively), and even supplied the women's champion, Luane Rowe.  Starbucks made its inaugural appearance as a sponsor, while TriSwim, Kiefer, Kirk Eye Center, Hammer Nutrition, XTerra Wetsuits, Greater Than Drink and Sheean Design returned to provide support.  And many of our 937 finishers remarked at the delicious barbequed ribs courtesy of Big Shoulders BBQ.  Big Shoulders would not be possible without the support of these great sponsors.

And thanks to all who came out.  Big Shoulders will return in 2014 on September 6th at Ohio Street Beach.  Registration will open on March 1, 2014.  Until then, keep stroking and keep smiling!

The Big Shoulders Race Committee

Official Results

5K Longcourse Results

2.5K Shortcourse Results

Thanks again for your continued support of Big Shoulders

The Chicago Masters' Big Shoulders Swim
Organizing Committee


2012 Official Results and Race Director's Message


2011 Official Results and Race Director's Message


2010 Official Results and Race Director's Message


2009 Official Results and Race Director's Message


2008 Official Results and Race Director's Message


2007 Official Results and Race Director's Message


2006 Official Results and Race Director's Message


2005 Official Results and Race Director's Message


2004 Official Results and Race Director's Message


2003 Official Results and Race Director's Message


2002 Official Results and Race Director's Message


2001 Official Results and Race Director's Message


2000 Official Results and Race Director's Message 


1999 Official Race Director's Message and Results


1998 Official Race Director's Message and Results


1997 Official Race Director's Message and Results


1996 Official Race Director's Message and Results


1995 Official Race Director's Message and Results


1994 Official Race Director's Message and Results