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
Blood, sweat and nearly tears. What a superb weekend in Donegal for my 7th of 10 charity triathlons with TRI10.
Hugely impressed with the Lakeside Msc Tri. It’s a gorgeous course, really well organised and set in stunning country, by a lake, surrounded by mountains and sea.
I loved the swim. My bike saddle killed me on the cycle which is odd because it was never that bad before; and it took all the energy out of me for the run. But I got around and I loved all the encouragement along the course, the ladies and fab kids at the water stop, and the two marshals who encouraged me to run up the last hill. I would have walked it if they hadn’t urged me on and I was delighted afterwards.
Overall I absolutely loved the experience.
Thanks also to TRI10 buddy and sponsor Jayne Orr for throwing open her home to us. It was wonderful to kick back and relax with the rest of the team.
Definitely want to come back to Donegal, and I actually think that I now want to do it all again. 😀
Don’t forget to support our charities! 😉 www.idonate.ie/tri10
SEAL of Approval
Blondie (car), sun, tent and triathlon… what more could a girl ask for?
Your money of course! http://www.idonate.ie/tri10
Of course I was coming back from a triathlon, so I had to take the bike out of the car to get to the spare wheel.
Then there were actual tears cried when …I turned around to see someone had taken my bike. It was gone. Completely. Absolutely no trace.
Fortunately. When I went into Wheelworx (where I’d been shopping) to see if they had cameras – I found my bike inside! Someone had spotted it, but missed my orange bum bent over my car, and had brought the bike inside.
So all good. Nearly. Rescue man broke another wheel stud, so now Blondie (car) and me, are loaded into a very big low loader…. and headed for my favourite garage.
Ashbourne Service Station here I come.