The gentleman on my arm nearly got whiplash as he swung around to watch the Coast Guard helicopter thunder past our heads. You can feel the heavy, powerful thud of the Sikorsky deep in your chest, understanding the power but only imagining the comfort that sound must bring to countless men and women who have called on its services down through the years.
We’re in Cootehill, County Cavan, queuing for entry to a Spiegeltent marquee for an evening’s entertainment in honour and celebration of the fallen Rescue 116 Coast Guard crew who lost their lives when their chopper flew into the night but never returned, on March 14th 2017.
This RNLI memorial underlines the close ties between our rescue services, described on the night as a marriage of heroes. We often say there are no heroes any more. We are wrong, they are here all around us. But sometimes we don’t appreciate our heroes; tonight we do. There are all sorts of heroes. The man on my arm who narrowly avoided whiplash grinning up at the Sikorsky is a hero. To me he is one of the greatest heroes of all. My #Dad (92) files into the tent beside me in the rain at 8pm at night. In a lightweight handstitched Louis Copeland suit, he’s the epitome of elegance, but badly equipped for the night ahead. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t notice he’d left his overcoat behind and I’m wondering how long we should stay before I coax him away back to the warmth.
The massive 400 seat Spiegeltent is sheltered, dry, and fitted with an impressive array of speakers and lights; hints of a seriously good show ahead. But eyeing the amphitheatre of wooden benches stretching high into the big top, I suddenly wonder what the heck I’m doing bringing my 92 year old father here.
And yet he’s a Cavan man, and would have been a local here in Cootehill in the forties. With Captain Dara’s father being a fellow Cootehill native, it seems right that dad should join in the community’s shared wish to console and honour the crew’s families.
Sitting on a red cushioned pew, we settle down and I determine to keep an eye on him and drag him out, at the first sign of cold or fatigue. TWO HOURS LATER the band takes a break, and I finally persuade him to leave. We’ve had a loan of a bomber jacket from a very kind man behind us, and I’ve surreptitiously had my arm around his back to support him a bit, but seriously, he insists he’s fine. In spite of age and arthritis he’s adamant that he’s not stiff, not sore, and thoroughly enjoyed the night.
The sold out show was certainly inspiring. RTE Broadcaster Ray D’Acy was funny and entertaining as MC, artfully and empathetically blending joy and hope with respect and dignity. The Clew Bay Pipe Band were stunning, as were the other acts. But the pipers really raised the roof and a live-streamed, big-screen video link-up with a lone piper playing from the Lighthouse Tower at Blacksod in Mayo where Rescue 116 went down, brought bitter sweet joyful tears to the eye. It was a night of memories.
Taking dad’s arm, we manoeuvre across wet, muddy grass to the car and again, I wonder if I was wrong to bring him here. It was 11pm and I whisked him into the town for last orders, thinking a shot of whiskey wouldn’t hurt.
While shouting small talk to friendly locals in the bar, with his hearing aids vibrating to the sound of a two piece rock ensemble, dad inquired where we’d get anything to eat. Sitting back in the car, with a slightly sozzled father wolfing down chicken nuggets and a massive bag of chips from the local takeaway… I laugh out loud, realising that right or wrong, my hero and I have just enjoyed a most unlikely night out on the town, worthy of any teenager. It was a precious, precious night.
That’s what memories are made of. The Rescue 116 Memorial Concert paid tribute to the bravery of the Irish Coast Guard crew, Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, Capt Mark Duffy and winch men Ciarán Smith and Paul Ormsby, who died when their aircraft crashed off the County Mayo coast.
Musicians Triona Marshall and Martin Tourish, Declan O’Rourke, Matt Molloy, Janice Igoe, the Roscommon Solstice Choir and the Clew Bay pipe band, were among the artists who performed for free at the sell-out concert in aid of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).
In a letter read to the audience, Britain’s Prince William wrote “The crew of 116 lived their lives to the full, not just for themselves but for all of us. They will never be forgotten.” President Michael D Higgins wrote “citizens like Dara, Mark, Ciarán and Paul greatly enrich our world, and make a profound contribution to the creation of strong and compassionate communities”.
They will never be forgotten.
A MAN WITH A PLAN:
I lost a pound and a couple of inches off my hips last week, which was week 3 and my third weight loss in three weeks – which has a bit of a ‘Power of Three’ ring to it.
I could actually have done better, but I strayed off the plan midweek after losing the will to live while knocking out some 4am starts for work!
Still I’m heading in the right direction and that’s a good thing, because I don’t want to incur the wrath of ‘the man with the plan’ – Irish Defence Forces soldier and sniper, Peter O’Halloran.
My PPT Fitness & Nutrition plan for this week is simple… increase the water intake, keep eating the right food, and get some consistency into my exercise. I had a tonne of exercise at the weekend, but I had a sore bum for my trouble…
I had a chance to join a bunch of gals cycling along the Greenway in Waterford at the weekend, which was brilliant and definitely something I’d recommend. For some reason though, I rented a bike instead of bringing down my own and I paid for it with a bruised bum. I’m sure if I wasn’t carrying an extra 8 stone it wouldn’t have mattered, but after 10k the unfamiliar saddle was making itself felt, at 20k I was no longer able to sit down, and at 25k, I was calling it quits at the halfway mark and promising to return again another day. In fairness to myself, I had actually woken up at 5am on the morning of the cycle with a tummy bug, so the universe had rather stacked the odds against me.
On this occasion I don’t regret bailing out. I’m not normally a quitter, but I was too uncomfortable to enjoy going any further. This way, I loved what I saw and I’ve got something to look forward to achieving in the future. It was really good to meet up with the girls too and it reminded me how much fun we lot had, hiking out in the hills together. That’s something else to start doing again.
HARBOURING A CHALLENGE:
The rest of the weekend was taken up with the world of swimming and kayaking. I was helping out with some social media for the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Race, as part of the Leinster Open Sea swim series,. My Lough Erne wingman Stephen Turner was back out on the water doing rescue cover for the 2.2k swim course, which sweeps out across the mouth of the harbour. It was a stunning day, flat calm, hardly a jellyfish in sight and even a burst of sunshine from time to time. It was lovely to bump into so many of my swimming friends and kayaking friends, and the atmosphere was really fun and uplifting.
Everyone kept asking me why I wasn’t swimming, and I confessed that I’ve always been quite nervous of the Harbour Swim. It’s a big swim, with big currents and frequently choppy swells out near the harbour mouth. I really am in awe of the swimmers who finish the course, not to mention the elites who carry handicaps of up to SIXTEEN MINUTES before setting out after the rest of the field.
I wouldn’t have to win it of course, I’d just have to complete it. As quite a few people pointed out to me yesterday, I can no longer use the excuse that the distance is too long, after managing the 5k Lough Erne solo in Eniskillen a couple of weeks ago. So I guess I have just selected my first challenge for 2018!
I really love swimming in the Liffey. In particular, I really love being a part of the annual, iconic, Liffey Swim.
When I was a young radio reporter I used to write about Dublin’s Liffey Swim and gaze in awe as men and women slipped into the fast moving water and set off swimming down the quays, beneath the bridges. Then a couple of years ago I had a fitness revolution and suddenly that experience was in my grasp. After a year of swimming and training and taking part in qualifying sea races, I finally got to take part in the Liffey Swim. I was last out of the water, but I made it. Since then I’ve made it every year, and despite putting on a tonne of weight, I really hope to make it again this year.
I also fancied pushing the swimming distance. After swimming in ten triathlons last year, and completing the Escape from Spike Island swim, and they Sandycove Island Swim, as well as the Lee and the Liffey, I felt I wanted to challenge myself some more.
I attempted to get a team together to take part in a 17k relay swim on Lough Erne, but it didn’t quite come together. However when I looked at the entries again, I noticed that they were putting on a shorter 5k solo and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I’d swam several 2ks and 3ks, and I knew I could always leave the water at any time if I ran into difficulty. I also had a big advantage, in that my mate and kayak buddy Stephen Turner, had been pencilled into my diary for the 17k since last Christmas and he agreed to come with me for support.
So last Saturday found me perched on the side of a jetty in Enniskillen jumping into Lough Erne. My kayak wingman Stephen was already on the water, and my mermaid mate and swim buddy Sinead Merrigan was organising the whole event, so I had good company and was in good hands.
I pushed off into soft, very dark, rather warm, peaty water with zero visibility. I didn’t have a clue how deep it was, and I couldn’t see any further than my hand through the dark water. It felt a bit eerie, but I got used to it quite quickly. My first battle was with the yellow buoy that we had to wear for visibility and safety. I hadn’t strapped it tight enough around my waist and it started slipping off. I grasped it as it sailed past my knees and without stopping hauled it back up and over my boobs, knowing it would have plenty of anchorage there! It did, but it also proceeded to in turn strangle me and wrap itself around my arm every time I took a stroke, so I belted it, and punched it, and snarled at it, for at least 1k – before I finally stopped, began treading water – and finally managed to re-fit it properly around my waist.
After that, the swim was pure bliss. The scenery was gorgeous, with beautiful properties and parkland sweeping down to the waterfront, blue skies, and sun warming the back of my head and shoulders. I was comfortable enough to speak with Stephen as he paddled along beside me. There was plenty of boat traffic out on the lake, but we had a vast amount of our own boat-cover, with paddleboards and kayakers, and small motorcraft. Everyone clearly knew where we were and waved enthusiasm as we swam past. I felt totally confident, but also loved having Stephen there beside me. We have kayaked together many times while providing cover for other swimmers, and this was very special to have Stephen covering for me. We knew each other’s style very well and we both cut a great line down the lake, in fact we actually trimmed it so well that we eventually made it over the course in just under 5k.
At one point I commented to Stephen that I thought we were getting some tide assistance because I felt I was actually swimming better. This was halfway through the swim, and looking at the graphics from my watch afterwards I realised that after about 3k I actually started swimming better and faster. Talking afterwards with other swimmers, they said they thought we had been pushing against a current for the first 2k, so that makes perfect sense.
There were amazing swimmers in the water, some like me were just swimming 5k for the first time, but others were swimming 17k and 25k solos. I was in the company of true athletes and that added to the sense of occasion. I didn’t feel tired at any stage, but I did keep telling myself to be prepared to swim for longer. I never allowed myself to think about finishing, and when one motorboat going past, shouted encouragement and said I only had 1600 metres to go, I laughed and thought they were lying – but they meant it! Some time later, Stephen said, you’ve got about 700 metres to go, and it genuinely came as a surprise.
I could hear the shouting before I could see the finish, at the castellated fort up above us on the river. I concentrated on lifting my arms high and swimming as prettily as I could – as a mark of respect to my swimtutor.ie instructor Karl McEnteggert, who is always so supportive. I’d hate him to see me swimming in with lazy arms!
I finished in bright sunshine, with laughter, loads of friends on the bank, and Stephen my wingman on my shoulder. I grabbed a hold of him to haul him out of his kayak for a giggle, but I just couldn’t do it. He’d been with me all the way and I couldn’t bring myself to be that mean. Instead we had a great big warm, happy hug, and the moment was caught on camera. The nicest photo I’ve seen all year and one that’s definitely going to find it’s way into a frame.
Thanks Stephen, Karl, Fergal, Vanessa, Sabrina, Sinead, all my swimming friends, and thanks to Swim Ireland and Swim Ulster and the wonderful ILDSA who hosted the swim. I even got a medal (we all did) and asked on the spot to say a few words I could only confess that … ‘in the morning I had thought ‘OMG I’ve got to swim 5k, but by the afternoon I found myself saying, ‘well it was only a 5k’…. That’s what challenges do. They boost your confidence and your knowledge, and make you think that even greater things are possible. I wonder what might be next?
Recently I’ve had a reminder that eating 700 calories, then crashing with hunger and fatigue and eating fast food on the way home from a night shift is NOT the way to health. Particularly when I go and beat myself up with guilt and jump on the 700 calorie or VLC (Very Low Calorie) treadmill again. Instead, I’ve eaten 1500 calories a day under orders from an Irish Army sniper – and I’ve lost a stone in the first week.
Thanks to those of you who have recently pointed out that I’m in trouble with my weight again. Thanks also to those who haven’t. Yes, I’m back on a mission and I just can’t believe that there’s 20 stone of me back in the mirror. But realising that, and kicking denial into touch is the first step to getting some control back.
There are lots of reasons and lots of excuses for the weight gain which started slowly in 2015, then escalated in 2016 despite my completing TEN TRIATHLONS in one year! This year the weight-gain flippin’ well hit Grand Prix levels, piling on 4 stone since Christmas! I could probably write a book about it (oh hang on, I did that before…!!!) but in essence, I think I basically lost the balance in my life between work and play, and everything else took a hit. I can’t believe I’m having to remind myself this but YOU’VE GOT TO ENJOY LIFE.
There are a thousand conversations we can have about stress, sadness, illness and depression – and no, I’m not pretending to be an expert for one second on any of those topics, and no I’m not depressed, although I am sometimes sad. The thing is, we need to REMIND ourselves to be happy. At least I do. I have so much to be thankful for and happy about, but sometimes I get far too wrapped up in the race of daily living. I can actually forget to appreciate the joy of living. No wonder they call it the human race – it’s so often to race to death, without ever pausing to enjoy the present.
Anyway back to my sniper! Peter O’Halloran is a 6″3 serving soldier with the Irish Defence Forces and a Sniper Instructor to boot…. (or should that be bootcamp?). He’s a qualified trainer and nutritional coach who runs a company called PPT Fitness and recently he’s made quite a stir on social media after losing his temper at ‘stupid’ diets – or words to that effect. He’s picking up quite an impressive following in just a few months with over 3000 Snapchat followers, 18k on Twitter and 10K on Instagram – and those numbers are growing daily. He’s picked up a reputation with hilarious comedy videos ranging from subjects like crash dieting, gym selfies, training pants (you’ve got to see to understand) and general annoyance that drive people nuts with the fitness industry. However at the heart of that following are some pretty stunning results in terms of weight loss and health, with one client completely reversing her diabetes status.
I came across Peter, because he’s my good friend Maureen O’Halloran’s ‘little’ boy. (snort). Guffaw, sorry Peter, you may be 6″3 but you’re still Maureen’s little boy to me! Maureen was worried about my weight gain and asked (flippin’ nagged) me to get in touch with Peter for some nutritional advice. I ignored her because the time wasn’t right, and then somehow it was. So I texted Peter and gave him details about my lifestyle and physical condition etc… and back popped a diet sheet. With 1500 calories worth of food on it. I nearly fainted down dead with the shock. Like…Potatoes? Butter?? BREAD???
Anyhow, after jumping onto the diet, my immediate first impression was that I can’t possibly eat all this much food. It’s amazing how much my mind had drifted over the last 12 months, into that unhealthy place of starvation and bingeing. I don’t mean sitting in a room with a fridge and eating a container load. I mean bingeing as in going to work on empty, drinking coffee all day, and then eating a take-away, followed by a sandwich an hour later, and half a packet of biscuits an hour after that. That’s the place I had gone to, and now, mentally, I found it was really difficult to sit down to a proper meal three times a day, with things like potatoes and gravy and bread and butter. Somehow it had become ok for me to eat a takeaway followed by a sandwich at 2am in the morning – and yet here I was struggling with the notion of having two slices of buttered toast with eggs at breakfast.
However I decided to trust the plan and two weeks in I have now seen my second weight loss. In week one, I lost half a stone and in week 2 I’ve lost 3lb – and that’s with an early weigh in, because I’m heading off for the weekend. It’s also without exercise, because apart from swimming, I’ve not done any cross-fit, running or cycling for months because I allowed myself to get too busy with work. That’s the next change. David Dunne my ever patient, gym guru and CrossFit trainer, I’m sorry I’ve been AWOL but I’m coming home.
I’m still struggling with the idea of eating my way thin, but that’s precisely how I described life the last time I had to get to grips with my weight – when I lost 10 stone in one year. It’s about being organised, being accountable and being full! I’m excited now to begin week 3 and I’m looking forward to getting back out on the bike.
I’m really beginning to feel rather like a #WeightlossWarrior.
I’ll let you know how I get on.
**In the meantime, you can check out Peter on Facebook and on his website: