I’m really proud of this friend of mine. She’s celebrating her 50th birthday this year by chucking off her clothes – for charity. Some people find nudity a breeze, others don’t and for my mate Averil Larke, this is an emotional journey which is a real challenge and a real tribute to both her, and the charities she supports. She’s doing all five of this year’s ‘Dip in The Nips’ for Irish Cancer Charities. Inspired by her bravery, I decided I’d also take the plunge, in Cork. But blow me, being starkers must have gone to my head, ‘cos I just did it again in Sligo!
When I say my friend is brave, I really mean it. Because dropping your clothes to the ground and making your way into the ocean in front of lots of other people can be a daunting experience. I swim all-year-round at Malahide in Dublin, so it’s not the thought of the cold that made me shiver in my flip-flops at my first ‘Dip’ in Cork. It was the thought of bearing my bits. I used to be 23 stone and I’m still overweight for my height, so I don’t have the best body image. The thought of putting it on display made me quite uncomfortable, and not for the first time. I posed for a nude art exhibition for Concern in 2012 and although I was pleased to do it and had no regrets, it was a really big challenge for me.
Surprisingly; I found the Cork Dip In The Nip absolutely empowering. We were very much protected from prying eyes as we ran to the sea, we got a countdown to the big ‘reveal’ and then scarpered into the surf as fast as long and short legs could go. There was an official photographer on the beach, the lads were up one end and the girls and couples in other separate spots, so it felt like a relatively safe environment. Once ‘under-cover’ in the water we splashed and laughed and swam through the gorgeous, fresh, salty, sun-kissed waves and felt almost high with the happiness in the air. Then I noticed the bodies. I wasn’t being voyeuristic in any way, but as we all left the water, we all seemed much more relaxed as we made our way back to our clothes. The startling revelation for me was that every single body on the beach was beautiful. I don’t say that lightly, and I don’t just mean that the emotion of the moment had got to me. I mean genuinely, that every body looked wonderful. Sun kissed and salt splashed – big and little, gravity pulled at everyone’s bits and their bodies swung around as they moved in a ballet of form, totally natural and totally ‘right’. Even the slenderest of ladies showed the effects of gravity; big or little, our bodies all ‘moved’. I suddenly realised, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to match my appearance to the flat, one-dimensional images, that we gaze at on TV and in print. But our bodies are so much more than that, we move, and sway and our muscles ripple and our bone structure shows and guides our form. We are so much more beautiful that what we can see on screen. You know when you try to photograph a beautiful sunset and you just can’t capture it – that’s the way these bodies seemed. It is a realisation that will hopefully last me a lifetime. Ladies we are beautiful.
Sligo saw both Averil and me back at full circle and taking our clothes off for charity again. It’s so important to raise money for cancer charities. We have all felt Cancer’s chilling touch in some way; our Mothers, Fathers, Aunts, Husbands, Daughters, Best friends; Cancer doesn’t discriminate. But I also believe that the men, women and couples taking part in the ‘Dip’ are ringing a bell for all those survivors who have fought the brave fight and come out shining. Hair loss, operation scars, all beautiful trophies to having tackled the odds and won. Shining and strong and fair play to every one. This crusade to the water’s edge is a celebration of life; a gift of thanks and pride for the legs that carry us, and lungs that breathe and eyes that see.
If you want to join in this wave of love and support – register for the next ‘Dip in the Nip’ – there’s just one left this year, in September. Come and Skinny-Dip for loved ones, or for those you’ve lost, or for you. Whatever your reason, join thousands of others who have peeled off for the cause. Or help me fundraise. You can make a donation of any amount on the PayPal button below.
*Frances Muldoon Photography
Well it’s taken over 2 weeks to get myself back on the bike. I wimped out one morning during that heavy rain we had, and the bike’s been sitting forlorn and mud-caked in the hallway ever since.
I tried to cycle into work on Monday, but couldn’t bring myself to start off the week that way. I tried to cycle into work yesterday, but listened to the voices in my head telling me I was too tired (after a good night’s sleep too!)… Then finally this morning, when the alarm went off at 6am, I grudgingly dragged myself away from my pillow, struggled into my padded lycra shorts suit (this so wasn’t designed for my body) and after finding every reason not to leave the house, I eventually edged my silver dream machine (Les bike) out the hall door.
It was damned cold this morning, and I realised that as I wheeled off down the end of my cul-de-sac, my nose was already weeping, and my ears were cut to shreds with the breeze. I grumbled for the next 5 mins or so, and then I suddenly realised that I was in top gear, flying like the wind, and absolutely loving the freedom of whizzing down the road into the dark morning.
There’s a lesson here. I avoided cycling for 2 whole weeks and convinced myself I hated it. I don’t. I love it. I loved cycling in this morning, I felt really good and strong – and I got into work in 45 minutes flat – without pushing the pace. As it turns out, I hadn’t lost a minute on my time for the 15k cycle. I’m thrilled – and I’m back.
It’s 6 weeks now, to my Concern/Uganda challenge; and the training is stepping up in earnest for myself and my WeightWatchers’ buddy Vera Baker. We’re off to Kerry and Limerick this weekend to climb and hike. Personally, the plan from here on in, is an hour of heavy-lifting in the gym twice a week. Cycling the 30k round trip into work 5 days a week. At least one swim at the weekend, and as much kayaking and climbing as we can fit in, between now and the off-date.
I’ve also started my injections and have Hep A and the first of THREE Rabies shots done. They warned me it would hurt – it didn’t. Hope that continues, and I hope I don’t start howling at the full moon…. wuff wuff folks…
So the challenge was to climb the beautiful but often brooding Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest mountain at 1.039Mtrs/3,123Ft. But in fact, my climbing and Concern/Uganda buddy, Vera Baker and I were to summit two of the highest peaks in Ireland, in just one day.
Along with a group of close to 60 walkers we approached this weekend’s Concern training walk with a certain amount of trepidation. Both Vera and myself were aware that we were a little deficient in training times for this big climb. It wasn’t due to any laziness or lack of organisation on our part, but we had needed to devote time to learning to Kayak and building up miles on the bikes for our multi-challenge adventure in Uganda for Concern this November, and getting out on the hills had suffered as a result.
Today we would find out exactly how much work we had to do. The route chosen for the climb is considered to be one of the easier, or at least ‘safest’ ascents to Carrauntoohil. We were staying on a completely different side of the mountain to the much talked about ‘Ladder’ route, which was badly eroded, and had been turned into a virtual river of mud and rock in the recent rains. With such a large group, a solid route was vital.
This was Vera’s first attempt at Carrauntoohil, and though I am a familiar visitor here, this approach from the West side of the mountain, was a first for me too. We drove up in pouring rain, resigned to a long, wet and misty hike – well wrapped up for the weather and determined to enjoy ourselves despite the wet and damp and the lack of views. Our walk began by following The Hydro Road, presumably named for the resevoir that we shortly passed by, and after a while we realised that the heavy rain had been replaced my a light mist. I joked to Vera that my iPhone App which had defiantly been declaring sun all morning, might in fact be right. I didn’t for a moment believe my own humour, as the long range forecast had confirmed the rain was down for the day.
After an initial sharp climb on road, we made our way for close to an hour across steaming bog and took a break and food, before bracing ourselves for the sharp ascent to summit Caher Mountain, we were about 45 mins away from the top of Ireland’s second highest peak at (1001 m/3000 ft). Reaching the Summit and congratulating Vera, we discovered we needed to wait on top for the group to catch up, I hurriedly fleeced up as the gusting wind whipped around my gortex shell, chilling me extremely quickly.
Caher Ridge was the next challenge. The spiny, winding, dinosaur tail that stretched beyond into the wildness of the Kerry landscape before sweeping up to our most majestic peak – our final destination – Carrauntoohil. Stepping down the exposed narrow descent from Caher Mountain to the ridge was not for the faint hearted, with severe drops falling away to our left. However the mist which had spoiled our views up to now, proved to be our friend – masking the depth of the fall on either side, and allowing those with a less than even head for heights (me) to make our way through, in blissful ignorance of what lay below. Although I’d been in these hills long enough to know instinctively that careful footwork was a wise precaution! As we gained the more level passage of the ridge itself the wind magically gusted the mist away and we grasped an emerald flash of green – swept away in seconds, before other climbers just seconds behind us, had a chance to raise their heads. This ‘peek-a-boo’ through the mist continued as we made our way along the ridge, gasps of amazement, foiled by almost instant sighs of regret as the views disappeared – cloaked again by the cloud, as it played out its burlesque peep-show for the climbers making their way to the summit.
And then we were there. We’d been speeding up for the last 15 mins with the huge iron cross that marks the highest peak in Ireland ever-present as conditions continued to clear, drawing us closer to it, faster and more confident. We’re laughing and congratulating each other, as our group of 40 climbers pass through a descending group of around 20, as we embrace the summit in bright sunshine, with superb views in all directions. I’ve been up here often enough to know how lucky we were to see conditions clear like this, and I congratulated Vera on her first, highly successful Carrauntoohil summit.
Lunch with Vera has to get a mention here – this is the only time I’ve had a multi-grain salad with a chocolate mousse on top of this mountain – and Vera can take care of the lunches for ever into the future! We were the envy of the mountain, and I apologise to all those who salivated at our fare! Food played a huge role in our climb. There was more stopping and more eating than I’m used to – because of the size of the group and the need to keep us all together. I found it difficult, because I’m used to plodding off and up and getting there, without breaks – and I found that halting my progress and getting cold was more difficult for me. But I’d never climbed in a group this large, and I learned a lot about managing a large number of people in uncertain territory. The leaders were skilled, confident and cheerful, and I’m hugely impressed at how they kept us all moving as one. We made it up in 4hrs 15 and heading back across the ridge the way we had come, it was close to the same to come down.
8hrs is a long time on the mountain, but apart from a few stiff ankles and general tiredness, we were in pretty good condition. It was a good day, we tested ourselves well, and we learned a lot. Not least, we learned that we haven’t done nearly enough to prepare us for climbing the extinct Volcano, Mount Elgon, in Uganda this November. So it’s back to the hills and back to our lovely Spink Mountain in Glendalough to step up the hiking part of our training regime. We’ve got about 6 weeks left. It’s enough. Perhaps we’ll see you out on the hills this weekend?…