Back in February, six ordinary people from around the country met with myself and a production crew from Athena Media. We went for a short walk in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, while we discussed our plans to get out and get active in the great outdoors. It was our first day of filming for a six-part television show that will be broadcast on Setanta TV this September. In the months that followed, we ran and trained, climbed mountains, cycled bikes, learned to swim, took part in triathlons and became firm friends.
When I started this project, I was widely enthusiastic, exhilarated by the opportunity to preach my message once again – that if I could lose 13 stone and get healthy, anybody could. For me, the benefits of a healthy lifestyle have exploded into a life full of passion and colour and I can’t help but get carried away when I talk about the joy of waking up each day with my new-found health. I hoped my group of six ‘Get Off The Couch’ participants would have a similar experience; but I could hardly have imagined the outcome.
I don’t want to give too much away, but we’re not just talking about six people who got fit and healthy, we’re talking about new jobs, a return to college, a major sports deal, giving up smoking and whole families changing the way they spend their leisure time together.
Strictly speaking, we finished filming back in June. But on Saturday we met again, to catch up, and because I wanted to show them my lovely Spinc Mountain that I had been bragging about throughout our months of training together. They were invited to bring friends and family, but I was a little concerned when I saw the youthful bunch that turned up – our youngest walker was just 4-years-old, and I confess I didn’t think they’d last 5 minutes. To my amazement, they hopped around the mountain covering a 9km hill-walk with a climb of 380m in just under 4 hours; and 4-year-old Charlie was the most energetic of all of us. It just goes to show that sometimes our kids can be limited, not by their lack of strength or maturity but by the preconceived and erroneous notions of us boring old adults.
Thanks to my GOTC gang for a fabulous day – to the kids for the life lesson – and to Joan Kavanagh (local historian and member of the Glens of Lead Project) who met us on the trail along the way to introduce us all to ‘Paddy Byrne’ (wooden miner model) and to tell us about the history of the old lead workings and mines at Glendalough.
After a ‘Last Supper’ with the team, several of us went back out on the hill again for a night climb on Spinc – as part of my climbing mate Vera Baker’s preparations for a Concern hike to Kenya later this year. Staying in Wicklow overnight, the Concern trainees were back out on their bikes for some cycling exercise on the Sallygap on Sunday, and then I was back up on Spinc for a 3rd and final climb on Sunday afternoon, before I returned to the city and prepared for work and the gym on Monday.
My own training intensifies next week. I’m preparing for the Liffey Descent kayak and cycle challenge that I’m doing this September with ‘Mr Kayak’ Kipper Maguire, to raise funds and awareness for LauraLynn Hospice – Irelands ONLY childrens’ hospice. If you have a few bob, please drop it into our MyCharity page here – and please pass it on….
“Ninja Midges” – that’s what we dubbed them, as the dying throes of the soon-to-be infamous ‘Summer of 2013 Heatwave’ burned deep into the reddening Roscommon skyline. As we gathered around the citronella flares that marked the heart of our Wild Water Kayak Club tent village, dodging dive-bombing beasties with fangs – I scratched lazily at the rising bumps on my legs and arms – and pondered that my weekend in Cootehall would be memorable to me for a host of reasons.
I’ve had two days of open canoe fun with old and new friends which has come as a timely kick-start to training for my next adventure – a Liffey Descent and Cycle challenge for LauraLynn Hospice (which you can read about by clicking HERE). I’ve also randomly found myself back near Ballyfarnon, where my dad owned a pub when I was 8. We moved around a lot when I was a kid and I’d nearly forgotten about living here – so a weekend of driving and paddling through this old familiar territory has stirred up a whole bunch of memories. The surprises continued when I met with one of my LauraLynn challenge SASTA sponsors who lives down here – only to find she was also an old school-mate back in the day!
The club’s canoe weekend saw us out on the Shannon and paddling from Cootehall to Carrick-on-Shannon on Saturday, which was around 12k of water covered – more if you include the messin! Sunday saw us move the boats to Lough Key Forest Park where we paddled the whole way out to the island with the castle on it, that I used to stare out at as a kid. Then we paddled further again, to picnic on yet another island even further out in the lake. I just love the way canoes open up the waterways to allow for a whole new range of adventures. Someone had camped on the island, or had at least lit a massive bonfire and I stared in envy – wishing dad had brought me here when I was 8. But maybe I’ll bring him, now he’s 88.
I tore myself away from Roscommon with a heavy heart and a whole heap of new questions about how life could have turned out if we’d stayed in the pub. It was known as the Cosy Inn – in case you’ve ever raised a glass there. It’s closed now I’m told. All those laughing voices and clinking glasses faded into memory.
Back in Dublin, Monday brought no muscle soreness, which is a good sign that I’m off to a flying start for my Liffey Descent training. I need to get my cycling legs back now, build on my current fitness, and lose a stone in the next two months. Then I’ll be ready. No problem – Gulp!
These fun-filled, action-packed weekends can only help. Exercising is so much better when you’re having fun with friends. It’s my secret weapon for getting fit and keeping fit. Last weekend I climbed Carrauntoohil for Concern to support climbing buddy Vera Baker who’s heading to Kenya with the charity this year. We followed the hike on Saturday with an adventure on Sunday which saw us in Tomies Wood in the Gap of Dunloe – with legendary Irish adventurer Pat Falvey and Eamon Waldron from ‘Get Off The Couch’, the adventure programme that I’m presenting on Setanta TV this September.
We spent about an hour hiking through some of the country’s oldest oak woodland, breathing in the earthy tones and feasting our eyes on the 40-shades of green mosses, herbs and ferns of this magical ‘Alice in Wonderland’ trek. Thank’s to Pat’s excellent stage-management, we suddenly stumbled with gasps of delight into a shady glade that thundered with the sound of O’Sullivan’s Cascade – 1.5kilometres of waterfall tumbling through the woodland and down to the lakes of Killarney National Park. We girls couldn’t resist taking a dip in one of the ice-cold plunge pools; feeling like wood-nymphs in a fairytale, or maybe the girls in a Tomotei advert. It’s easy to let your imagination run away with you in a magical place like this…
Folklore tells us that O’Sullivan’s Cascade is where the chief of the Fianna, Fionn MacCumhal stashed his personal whiskey store, before a row with invaders saw the precious drop turn back to water. Later, we turned the water back into wine, over a bowl of chowder at Kate Kearney’s Cottage.. 😉
Can’t wait for next week’s adventure.
Well I have a whole new adventure on the way, with a massive physical challenge, 2 months of perfecting new skills, 2 months of building strength, flexibility and muscle, and 2 months to get over my terror of weirs and white water!
White Water Kayaker and Former National Freestyle Champion, Kipper Maguire has challenged me to join him in tackling this year’s Liffey Descent in aid of LauraLynn the country’s ONLY Hospice for Children.
Taking place on Saturday September 28th, the annual kayak event will attract paddlers from all over the world, with the ESB releasing 30-million tons of water to feed the 28km course that will combine long flat water sections, swift currents, ten weirs and numerous rapids. To make the daunting challenge even more interesting, we’ve agreed to cycle from LauraLynn’s Leopardstown base to the start of the descent at the K-Club in County Kildare…a mere 40k or so, with a few hill climbs thrown in to keep us warm!
Tragically there are over 1,400 children living in Ireland with life-limiting conditions and 350 of these children pass away each year, most within the first year of life. With no government funding to build or run LauraLynn House, the hospice needs over €2.4M each year to keep the service going.
The Pedals and Paddles challenge this autumn, will raise funds and awareness for the hospice. Will you help? Check out our MyCharity page and follow our extensive summer training through their ‘Pedal 2 Paddle’ blog here – on Facebook or on Twitter.
Kipper Maguire is a White Water Kayaker, Former National Freestyle champion, level 4 ICU Instructor and, in his spare time, an enthusiastic SUP surfer. Kipper represented Ireland in 4 World Championships and was National Freestyle Champion for 3. He continued his involvement with the World Championships through coaching of the National Team as well as commentating at the events. His kayaking trips have taken him all over world. One of his most memorable experiences was paddling Zanskar Gorge in India. This charity event co-organised by Kipper raised €10K for charity. A close second was his winter trip down the Grand Canyon. You can find him on the flat water teaching, getting new people involved in the sport and when it rains you will find him teaching advanced techniques or just out having a blast on the water with his friends.
20 years a journalist with Dublin’s 98FM, in recent years, Head of News Teena Gates has also earned a reputation as an author and adventurer. As well as a busy brief with the capital’s top radio station, she writes a column for Outsider Magazine, her 1st book ‘One Foot in Front Of The Other’ was a sell-out success, and she takes to the small screen later this September with a 6-part show for Setanta TV. She’s also worked up a massive track record for charity fundraising. “In the past three years I’ve lost 12 stone – leaving my 23 stone bulk behind and taking up a number of physical challenges for charity. I’ve climbed to Everest Base Camp and have recently returned from a multi-trip adventure to Uganda for Concern, but this could be my toughest challenge yet.”
Make a donation here: http://www.mycharity.ie/event/weirsnwheels
OK folks. Kayaking White Water is not going to come easy to me. I actually cried on the river tonight, with sheer terror and annoyance at myself, and frustration at my fear. My sprained wrist hurt, but it was only an excuse… I actually wanted to chuck it all in, and climb up the bank, and walk away…..
Luckily I stayed – and I finally made it down a weir without falling in! Chuffed, but still terrified.
This isn’t coming naturally, and I’m going to have to work REALLY hard to get better. But I reckon if I made it down once without falling in, I can do it again… and again… and again. Practice huh?