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Chicago cop just getting started with swim through Straits of Gibraltar

Chicago Police Officer Nial Funchiuses pool University Illinois Chicago for training. | Sun-Times file photo

Chicago Police Officer Nial Funchion uses the pool at the University of Illinois at Chicago for training. | Sun-Times file photo

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Updated: October 27, 2011 5:49PM

When Chicago police officer Nial Funchion swam across the Straits of Gibraltar recently, he was joined by some unexpected guests: a family of killer whales.

“I was so focused on making it through that I never even noticed the whales were there. I knew everybody was looking at something else, but I figured it was a boat,” Funchion said.

“I didn’t find out until after I finished that a family of whales had been following me. They were only about a hundred yards behind me, and the pictures my team took look really cool, but I’m glad nobody told me at the time.”

Funchion, who has been swimming all his life, made the 12-mile swim Oct. 6 from Tarifa, Spain to Morocco in an impressive 3 hours, 50 minutes, to raise awareness for the non-profit police organization, The Brotherhood of the Fallen.

Funchion and his two-person support team were in Spain for about a week before the swim could take place, and for a while it was uncertain if weather and water traffic conditions would allow it.

“You get a certain window of opportunity for these swims,” Funchion said. “My time frame was between Oct. 2 and 10. Things got pretty dramatic waiting to go, and we wound up only having about four hours of clear time so it was really a miracle that we pulled it off.”

In addition to the Gibraltar swim, Funchion has competed in numerous open-water swimming competitions such as the Chicago Big Shoulders 5K Swim and has completed several other individual swimming feats, including crossing the English channel in 1992 with the best American time that year.

He also swam from Evanston to Hammond in a record-setting time of 14 hours, 45 minutes in 2003.

For Funchion, though, swimming is only part of something much bigger. He dedicates each of his swims to the Brotherhood of the Fallen, a police organization dedicated to sending representatives to the funerals of officers killed in the line of duty around the nation and contributing financial support to their families.

Funchion, an 18-year member of the Chicago Police Department, became awareof the group several years ago while attending a memorial for a fellow officer. While there, he saw non-Chicago officers offering their condolences to the family on behalf of the Brotherhood of the Fallen and was inspired to contribute.

“Seeing those two patrolmen from another city come to help the family in that sad moment and share in their experience was very moving,” Funchion said. “When I first called the Brotherhood after seeing that, I was a little worried that it might be overly political, but it’s nothing like that. It’s just patrolmen helping patrolmen.”

By dedicating his swims to the Brotherhood, Funchion hopes to raise awareness and public interest in the charity. He also feels that helping the organization with his personal feats is an emotional, symbolic parallel to the struggles of his own life.

“Swimming from Spain to Africa was really a metaphor for my personal life,” Funchion explains. “Yes, I had to train hard and plan for it, but more than that I had to get to a place within myself where I can trust my instincts again, put myself and my dream out there in the world and be able to hope for the best outcome in spite of the odds.”

Personally, and in his swimming, Funchion plans to “keep going.”

In the coming years Funchion plans to become one of only 44 people to complete the open-water swimming “Triple Crown” by adding the 28.5-mile swim around Manhattan Island in June 2012 and the 21-mile swim from California to Catalina Island in August 2013 to his 1992 English Channel swim, all in the name of his favorite charity.

“Gibraltar was a nice barometer,” Funchion says. “It has made me more confident for the longer Manhattan and Catalina swims.”

Additionally, in January, Funchion will launch a bl og,, documenting his personal experiences and promoting the Brotherhood of the Fallen. He hopes that this will not only raise awareness of his cause but also become a place for others to “connect to their own stories of hope and inspiration.”

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