CHICAGO (CBS) — You could call it a leap of faith – in a more literal sense than the term is typically used.

It began with a jump into Lake Michigan during the depths of the pandemic by a Chicago man who came out better.

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As CBS News’ Adriana Diaz reported, Dan O’Conor’s journey started with a search for a hangover cure. But a jump into Lake Michigan each day has turned out to have more benefits, and for months now, O’Conor has been doing it to shock his senses and clear his mind.

They call O’Conor the Great Lake Jumper. He has made that jump into Lake Michigan every day for a year since June 2020 – yes, even during the dead of winter.

The 53-year-old father of three was at first looking for relief from a hangover, and the news cycle.

“It was a dark time. It was the pandemic. The protests were starting to happen; the election and politics,” O’Conor said. “I could come down here and cleanse the palate and start anew.”

And he kept coming back for this pandemic therapy.

“The positive feedback I started getting – people are reaching out saying, ‘This brightens my day, seeing you jump in the lake,’” O’Conor said.

And how does that make him feel to hear that?

“You know, it brightened my day,” he said, “and I think we all needed that during the pandemic. We all needed to find some light.”

O’Conor kept at it through the winter – those bitter cold and snowy days back in February – breaking the ice however he could.

Diaz: “People jump in this lake and they don’t survive.”

O’Conor: “It crossed my mind every time. I had to be 100 percent present.

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Diaz: What does your mom say to you?

O’Conor: “‘You’re not jumping into that lake, are you?’”

On his wife Margaret’s advice, O’Conor – a music buff – raised awareness for Chicago musicians and venues struggling in the pandemic. Musicians are seen playing as alongside O’Conor as he makes his jumps – which are all recorded on video and posted to his Twitter account.

“I think it’s really special – why am I crying all of the sudden?! I think it’s really unique,” said Margaret O’Conor. “I mean, from the people who he, you know, helped get through (the pandemic) remotely.”

When Diaz and her crew visited, Jon Langford, Rick “Cookin’” Sherry, and John Szymanski of the Pine Valley Cosmonauts were playing a special song for O’Conor.

Diaz: “It’s amazing that so much joy came from one person’s relatively small act.”

Langford: “I don’t know if it’s small. I think it’s a big commitment. Something that’s clearly crazy; brings people together.”

And O’Conor’s one-year jump brought a lot of people together – and they all jumped right in with him.

So what has this all done for his mental health?

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“You know, I think it’s definitely improved my outlook,” O’Conor said. “You can do something really small and it can turn into something big.”

CBS 2 Chicago Staff