I’m no stranger to the NAC – the National Aquatic Centre – and its fantastic 50 metre Olympic length pool. But when I turned up for the Swim Ireland ‘Swim For a Mile’ challenge, I felt as if I was a rabbit caught in headlights. For some reason, when I saw hundreds of swimmers all registering and lining up to take their place in the pool, I had a sudden fit of nerves.
I suppose my lack of training was partly at fault. I’d started swimming for the event a couple of months earlier and had actually covered the distance one morning with some of my buddies from the Eastern Bay Swim Team. But I slipped and fell while out running in the hills and ended up with 12 stitches in my knee. That brought an abrupt halt to my swim training, both in the pool and the sea. Turning up for the actual challenge at the NAC was the first time I’d been swimming in weeks. I didn’t know how my leg would work, and whether I’d be able to finish the distance at all, not to mind within the allotted time.
I mentioned my concerns nervously when I registered, and one of the ladies reassured me that no-one yet had failed to complete the course. Somehow I didn’t find that reassuring!
So with pressure building, I collected my timing chip and Swim-Ireland swim hat and made my way to the changing rooms. The other girls were great, and lots of swimmers seemed a bit nervous as we headed out to poolside. The loudspeakers crackled with a lively MC who welcomed us to take our lanes and gave us welcome instructions. Swim sponsors TodayFM were very much in evidence, with ‘The Last Word’ presenter Matt Cooper already in the pool and clocking up what must have been his 5th ‘one-mile’ swim in a week!
There was a great atmosphere among all the participants and supporters. From snatched conversations and comments overheard among other groups of swimmers, I grasped more than ever what a really great project this Swim Ireland challenge is. It’s brilliant for raising awareness and funds for charity. But it’s also an amazing legacy for the country, in terms of the number of people who got out there and learned to swim for this challenge. In just a few months, people of all sizes had got active and trained up to be able to ‘swim for a mile’. I don’t think we can underestimate what a great achievement that is.
There was great camaraderie and friendliness as we all lined up to take our places; with loads of people shouting support from the gallery. For a moment I kicked myself for not bringing some mates along with me too. I felt a bit lonely as I got ready to slip my wounded paw into the pool. It was my own fault, I hadn’t really decided to go ahead with the swim until I found myself parking outside!
The starter went and we were off; and instantly I knew it was going to be alright. I got into a comfortable rhythm and prepared to enjoy the experience. I did. The leg was fine, I didn’t need to pull up, I wasn’t too slow to finish. Everything was cool and it was great to be a part of such a massive effort by so many people. Well done to everyone involved, particularly all those ladies I met who were new to swimming, but who now have a wonderful gift that will last them a lifetime. What a life-changing event this is.
I’ll definitely do this again and I’ll encourage as many of my friends to swim as possible; and if they really can’t swim, then next time I’ll take them along to cheer us all on.
Roll on the next ‘splash-down’ at the NAC.