Giving Back: A ‘Mighty’ Swim for Charity

April 14, 2016

Over the years, Tim McDonnell has been shaved, dunked in gunk and jumped out of a plane to raise funds for the Michigan Land Title Association’s (MLTA) Political Action Committee (PAC). He’s equally committed to raising funds for charitable organizations helping to cure cancer and build affordable housing.

On Labor Day morning this year, McDonnell will jump into the frigid waters of the Straits of Mackinac to compete in the Mighty Mac Swim and raise money for Habitat for Humanity of Michigan. The event is a 4.2-mile, open-water swim race. Due to significant and often treacherous cross-currents that vary in direction and intensity, it can take swimmers anywhere from three to six hours to finish. Swimmers are encouraged to prepare for at least a five-mile race.

Water temperatures are likely to be in the mid-50s or lower 60s, but race organizers warn swimmers to “prepare for the possibility of colder water.” Participants will start in St. Ignace, Mich., in the Upper Peninsula and swim across the Straits of Mackinac under the Mackinac Bridge to Mackinaw City, Mich., in the Lower Peninsula.

“I am estimating I’ll swim five to six miles if we have perfect weather and the Straits are flat,” McDonnell said. The swim crosses an active shipping channel that is not closed for the race. “If you don’t clear the shipping channel and a freighter comes along, the safety boats will pick you up, boat you back to the far side of course and let you start swimming again.”

Last year’s event raised more than $325,000. All money goes directly to Habitat for Humanity of Michigan. Each swimmer is required to raise a minimum of $5,000 in order to participate in the race. 

“I am hoping to get a donation from each of the 50 states as part of my effort on behalf of Habitat for Humanity of Michigan,” said McDonnell, who is vice president and Michigan agency representative for Old Republic National Title Insurance Co.

Only 80 swimmers are accepted to participate in the Mighty Mac. McDonnell earned his way into the event by participating in six triathlons in 2015 and provided times that proved he had the ability to safely swim the distance.

“I’ve been doing triathlons for the last three years,” said McDonnell, who competed on swim teams from the age of six through high school. “I do a lot of swimming in the pool. Then we do some open water swimming in a few lakes. Since I signed up for the Mighty Mac, I’ve been doing at least two or three two-mile swims in the pool each week, but I’m looking forward to the open water.”

McDonnell’s flair for the extreme has helped spur some creative events for MLTA’s PAC. He recalled a “Kiss the Pig” fundraiser in 1997 where local 4-H participants brought in a swine to the state convention in Traverse City. Five high-profile people were recruited to participate. Contributions were made in their name and the winner had to kiss the hog right on the snout. That event raised $6,000.

In 2003, the “Close Shave for the PAC” raised just under $10,000. “I had long hair then and it was all taken off,” said McDonnell, who is a past president of MLTA and current chair of the state association’s PAC.

He calls the 2007 MLTA PAC fundraiser the “craziest.” Coined “Pennies from Heaven,” McDonnell was the winner of the event as more than $7,500 was donated in his name. During the MLTA’s cocktail party at its Annual Convention, an airplane flew in, picked up McDonnell and gave him 10 minutes to train before taking to the air. After parachuting, he landed at the party and “one of the guys brought me a beer right away,” McDonnell joked. “Two years after that jump, I learned that MLTA took out a $2 million life policy on me.” All told, the event raised nearly $12,000.

His biggest passion may be helping raise funds to find a cure for cancer. McDonnell’s wife is a breast cancer survivor and his brother-in-law died from mesothelioma. Since 2009, McDonnell has biked more than 1,000 miles, and swam and walked hundreds more to raise over $100,000 for groups such as Susan G. Komen Foundation and the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation.

“I’ve met a lot of incredible people that do some fantastic work through my involvement with the Susan G. Komen Foundation,” McDonnell said. “There’s a great sense of giving and accomplishment for doing this.”

How You Can Help

Tim McDonnell is seeking companies and organizations in the title and related industries to sponsor his effort through monetary donations. Let’s see if we can help him get a donation from each of the 50 states to raise money for Habitat for Humanity of Michigan.

To make a donation, go to

Or, mail a check to:

Habitat for Humanity of Michigan—Mighty Mac Swim
618 S. Creyts Road
Suite C
Lansing, MI 48917

Please indicate “Timothy McDonnell” on the memo line.

Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or