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:
Ok it’s good that I’m back training and back at Crossfit, but I’ve put on so much weight, so quickly, that I feel I’m starting all over again. I suppose it’s also good that I know I’ve done this before, so I know I can do it again. It also helps to know that absolutely nobody is judging me, except myself!
The bad? OMG it’s so bad to be starting at the beginning again. To start a dead-lift only to discover the bar is pinching your overhanging stomach so the weight is the least of your problems. So bad being out of breath after 4 mins on the rower. So bad to be unable to do a single proper burpee ‘cos your belly gets in the way. Grrrr when I regain the ability to do a full burpee, I will do 20 a day for the rest of my life and never moan about burpees again.
The ugly is the overhanging belly that gets in the way of every flippin’ thing and sits like a tired old man on my thighs. The ugly is the tops that won’t fit and the gravity defying baggy leggings. The ugly is the hot sweaty face and the sweat stained runners. The ugly is the double chin that threatens to choke me when I lie down on my yoga mat.
The result can only be Good. It’s good to know that this is a passing phase. All I need to do is train consistently and my faithful old body will stop creaking and start to sing again. It’s good to know that everyone has my back and is encouraging me on. It’s good to know that in the eyes of my #CrossFit community, a sweaty face is a thing of beauty, a groan is a badge of honour, and huffing and puffing a testament to a challenge well met.
Here’s to life, to passion, to effort and reward. I wish The Good, The Bad and The Ugly for us all this Easter weekend.
I had a wonderful experience at the weekend. I was happy to speak at Ireland’s first – ‘Ireland’s Got Curves’ – ‘Curvy Convention’.
It was great to see so many beautiful ‘plus-size’ girls, women, designers, and business people all together under one roof. I think it might be the beginning of something special.
My message was to talk about my own plus-size journey to fitness.
I lost 10 stone in a year in 2010 and while that can be a source of inspiration to some – I think there’s also a valuable message in how I put a dramatic amount of weight back on in the last couple of years – but still persisted in keeping active.
Last year I celebrated being 50 by completing TEN triathlons.
I think the most important thing for me is to find my ‘sweet spot’ – that’s the size and shape that allows me to live and do all the things that I want to do, to enjoy life and sport and the people around me – without beating myself up about how I look.
I’m not there yet – but I haven’t given up either. I guess I’m a bit of a weight-loss warrior.
In the meantime, I had a lovely surprise at the Curvy Convention – because I was awarded the inaugural trophy for Ireland’s Got Curves – Best in Health.
I was also given a star! A real star has been named after me! How incredibly special is that? I’m absolutely chuffed that there is a star out there called Teena. Looking at the night sky will never be the same again.
Thank you Ireland’s Got Curves and thank you to all the lovely girls who bravely took to the catwalk this weekend and truly strutted their stuff in style.
Girls, I think we may have started a curvy revolution xxx
A curling wave crashes over me from behind, pushing me forward and down below the surface of the sea. Through my swimming-goggles I catch a green, silent moment in the wave and I remind myself to relax and pace my breathing. I kick my legs, push my elbow back, folding it high and reaching forward for the catch, then pushing through and out into sunlight to catch my breath then surge forwards again.
The white crest of the wave throws sparkling droplets into the air, catching with the sunlight and there it is, I’m swimming through rainbows. The rough sea is challenging and fierce and I couldn’t be happier. Glancing through the swell I notice the spire of Saint Colman’s Cathedral on my right and the smaller Christchurch Church of Ireland on my left. These are my guides and there is a spiritual connection in my mind as I imagine an invisible tow-line attaching me to both and leading me back to shore. I am judging the current and the tide; the way the water is pulling me, along my trajectory to those fine points on the landline ahead. We are a perfect triangle, a power source, and the sea cannot defeat me. I am alive.
I have been fascinated by the open water sea swim between Spike Island and Cobh ever since I was a young radio reporter, writing stories about the island’s prison population and the infamous prison riot, which is now part of the exhibition about the island’s history. I always imagined what it might be like to swim it, but I never imagined that I would be the swimmer. So it is with the world, that strange coincidences turn dreams to reality. How appropriate that now I was swimming this infamous stretch – Ireland’s own ‘escape from Alcatraz’ – as part of an even bigger project of completing ten triathlons in a year.
The Cobh Tri was my tenth triathlon of 2016, and the swim from Spike to Cobh was without a shadow of a doubt the most exciting. It was also my first ever attempt at a full ‘Olympic distance’ tri and I really had no idea if I could do it.
Back in February with a lot of borrowed gear and last minute choices, I dipped my toe into the indoor pool in Carrick-On-Shannon for the Lough Key ‘Try a Tri’ – my first introduction to the world of triathlon. I was nervous, but the people of Carrick won the day, their encouragement hurtling me through to complete the course. It was a trend that was to continue, as I headed to Galway for the Castle Series and the Lough Cutra Castle Triathlon with its beautiful parkland and lake. From there I headed to Kildare for my first sprint distance triathlon during an Irish heatwave. Running along the river in Athy I thought I would melt but every elite athlete that zipped past used their precious breath to call encouragement to me as I jogged along.
‘By Hook or By Crook’ I finished my 4th triathlon in Wexford and swam back across the bay afterwards! Hells Angels were born for number five, when I buddied up and took my place in an all-girl team to finish the swim as part of a relay at Hell Of The West. My favourite run came next in the lovely Dromineer with Nenagh Tri Club, followed by the Lakeside Tri in Donegal, King of Greystones in Wicklow and triathlon number nine, the Salthill Tri in Galway.
Throughout the year I felt my confidence grow, but I also felt such admiration for the organisers and the athletes taking part. Safety and organisation was paramount, and whether racing across a lake or a big sea swim like Hell of the West, there was always a safety kayak within sight and the briefings before each race left me very clear and very safe about the race and my place in it. I very quickly found reassurance that I did have a place here. Even though this is a hugely competitive sport with amazing elites battling hard for home and country, I never felt out of place. That’s down to Triathlon Ireland, all the organising clubs, stewards, officials, safety crews, and the athletes and spectators who never stopped encouraging me along the way.
At the start of the year, overweight and unable to run very far, I felt a bit of a fraud turning up for my first ‘try-a’tri’ – but nobody else saw me that way. I soon realised that even if I never won a race, I could win each time by performing better than the last. My race wasn’t just on triathlon day, it was all the work I put in between the events, jogging on the road, swimming in the sea, cycling to work and going to the gym; it all counted. Turning up to race wasn’t a judgement on how slow or bad I was, it was a celebration of how far I had come; and everybody there encouraged me to realise that.
Back here at Cobh – my tenth triathlon of the Summer – and my first full Olympic distance. I accept the outstretched hands that balance me as I climb from the water after completing my epic battle ‘escaping’ from Spike. I head off on the bike against a gale force wind, because Cobh wasn’t making this easy! Nearly 40k later I swing back in on the bike and face my nemesis – the 10k run. Or in my case, the walk and jog. I didn’t have to look far for inspiration, I knew that this was also a ‘first ever full distance Olympic triathlon’ for the legendary Sonia O’Sullivan.
Of course she’d long finished the course, but as I finished my first loop and got the first of three wristbands before starting on the next, I thought about Sonia and the effort it must take to compete in an entirely new sport when everyone is watching. The loveliness of the lady and the kindness she has shown me whenever we have met was another reason to keep me going for the second band, which was green. I knew with a white and a green band on my wrist there was no way I was stopping. To my delight, other ladies, stewards and even some of my friends, joined me on the last loop, walking and jogging it with me and encouraging me all the way.
I finished my tenth triathlon on the seafront in Cobh, grabbing my last wristband to form the perfect green, white and gold. As I heard my timing chip beep as I passed over the pressure mat, I knew that I’d just completed my own personal Olympic moment. Thank you Triathlon Ireland, thank you Sonia, thank you friends, spectators and fellow competitors for all your support and inspiration along the way. Thanks also to the kind donors who allowed me raise €1,000 for The Irish Wheelchair Association and the Gavin Glynn Foundation, and to everyone who donated to the TRI10 iDonate page throughout the year. It’s been an amazing adventure and I have a sneaky feeling that I’ll be back next year….
*First published in Sept 2016 by Triathlon Ireland
So proud to kayak for this champ. Eastern Bay SC, Leinster Open Sea Swimmer, Sabrina Wiedmer, just completed a 35k race to swim the length of Loch Lomond….she won too!
We set out as the sun was setting with the loch stretching out, long and narrow, ahead of us. I hadn’t told Sabrina, but I’d had an encounter with a borrowed kayak a few days earlier, which saw me falling out in just 3 inches of water, wearing full battle gear; wetsuit, buoyancy aid and helmet. I was dreading making an eejit of myself again and took my chance when no one was looking to launch unassisted into the loch.
Without a splash or a blush, I safely got my self comfy and waited for the countdown that saw my swimmer take to the water and push off into the night. Settling down, I paddled fairly silently beside her, resigned to the knowledge that we had 10 or 11 hours of work ahead.
Those who know swimming and swimmers can identify and appreciate the strength and fluidity of a swimmer like Sabrina, but for those who are not, just let me say – she’s impressive.
We had a super crew with Colleen Mallon and Alex Engel on the powerboat manned by Stewart Griffiths and Chris Sifleet of Swim4Miles. Along with safety and guidance, there was plenty of laughter and encouragement. ‘Breaks’ for feeds took only seconds, but they were welcome distractions, as the dark closed down around us.
At one point we realised that our ‘lighting’ job on the kayak hadn’t been sufficient and Sabrina suggested a re-positioning of an LED torch that was flashing away merrily on my shoulder. I unclasped it and set about positioning it lower down on the boat when the next second the feed ended and Sabrina was off.
With a moment of baffled horror I looked at the torch in my hands and considered abandoning it to grab the paddle. I hesitated, realising that I’d regret losing the light in the total pitch darkness that had now descended. Yet I could hear the splash and fall of Sabrina swimming off into the lake. “Follow my swimmer” I yelled to the boat in panic, before sticking the lamp in my gob and tearing off after them into the night.
The next feed offered me a chance to readjust myself properly and with the kayak now lit up like a Christmas tree, we continued on our way. It was a very long way. There were no tides, but there were plenty of currents, islands to navigate, and hours and hours of progress to make. Finally, we cleared the islands and with dawn breaking made our way into a large expanse of water known as ‘The Basin’. As the light strengthened we could see the finish line ahead, so close we could almost reach out and touch it. But as we crossed away from the shelter of the narrow pass, the wind picked up and started pushing us back across the lake. Over an hour passed where we just had to keep pushing against the rolling, choppy waves, inching our way closer to the prize.
It’s a bit of a life lesson but there is absolutely no alternative in a situation like that but put your head down and push on, grinding up the inches and the minutes and slowly moving forward. I knew without any doubt that Sabrina would not stop at this stage, not if every fibre in her was screaming, which it probably was. That girl is stubborn, in the very best way that a girl can be stubborn.
The final push to the shore was almost an anti-climax. In bright daylight, with a heartening crowd who were noisily welcoming our final approach, we were just glad to finish. It will probably take a while for me to realise and appreciate what I have just been a part of. I wonder does Sabrina realise how truly amazing she is?
This was Sabrina’s challenge, and Sabrina’s fine Scottish adventure. But I can’t help being a little bit pleased with myself too. I am absolutely chuffed to have been able to keep up with the human torpedo that is Sabrina Wiedmer and I’m very grateful to her for the opportunity. I kayaked 35 kilometres, the whole length of Loch Lomond, a lake I only ever read about before in books. That’s quite an achievement for a lass who always wanted to kayak but thought she was too fat to fit in a boat.
Got to say a word of thanks to my gym guru David Dunne for the CrossfitPowerful muscles that I haven’t quite lost, also to Kipper Maguire for showing me how to kayak for over 20 miles in one trip, and to Adrian Durrant and Great Outdoors for the most comfy kayak in the world 😀
I am somewhat in shock. I have just got my #LiffeySwim times.
This is my 3rd time to qualify for, and take part in, the #LiffeySwim; which had long been a secret ambition of mine, when I reported on the race every year as a journalist with 98FM.
I first got my wish in 2014. …
The organisers use a race-handicap system, putting the slowest swimmers in the water first.
In 2014 I had hat number ONE. I was the first person into the river and the last person out – taking 1hr-28mins to complete the 2.2k swim from the Guinness Gates to the Custom House.
The following year (last year) I had hat number 3 and was the 3rd-last person out of the river.
This year I had hat number 4 and I was hoping I might be the 4th last person out of the river 😆
It appears I came in 84th out of 145 swimmers, in a time of 37.41
An hour off my time…
I just want to say this is pure proof that you can improve on your ability and fitness no matter WHERE you start your journey from. I’m sooo emotional just right now. This is a dream come true for the lass who a) never thought she could swim the Liffey, and b) became the lass who swam the Liffey so slowly that everyone else had finished and was hanging over the river wall shouting encouragement as I splashed my way up to the Custom House steps.
Thank you to all my fellow swimmers who are constantly reassuring me, my club Eastern Bay who do the best Sunday swims ever, my adopted club NAC Masters who never complain when I clog up the swimming lanes at their Thursday night swim sessions.
Thank you to Karl McEntegart DCU SwimTutor.ie who’s constantly improving my technique and has always believed in me – to Johnny Carroll The Fitness Guy who’s introduced the word ‘sprint’ into my swim vocabulary – to Sabrina Wiedmer, Vanessa Daws, Sinead Merrigan, Catherine Fenton
…..and thanks especially my #GetOffTheCouch #ExtremeDoc TV star and chanimal buddy Fergal Somerville who took me by the hand and sort of dragged me into a stormy sea at Malahide a couple of years ago 😂
Sorry for the Oscar speech but I’ve got a lot to be grateful for tonight 😀💖💕
Our 8th triathlon brought us to Wicklow for the King of Greystones charity tri for the Gavin Glynn Foundation.
I probably struggled the most on this one. I woke up with a dodgy tummy and can think of half a dozen places I would have preferred to be. But I managed to get to the finish line all the same. Not without an embarrassing amount of whining though. The stones hurt my feet on the way down the beach to the start of the swim and I actually wanted to cry! If it wasn’t for our team physio Mike Wearing, administering a bit of coaxing and bundles of positivity, I don’t think I would have made it.
I didn’t do a bad swim, didn’t do a bad cycle, but when it came to the 5k run, I was just all shot… and I walked and trotted my way home. It’s the first time I have actually come last in a race but perhaps that’s good for the soul occasionally. Determined to work harder for the next one.
In the meantime, don’t forget our charities. www.idonate.ie/tri10