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’ve decided that this is how I want to look by the end of the year! Before you laugh, it’s the beautiful powerful creature charging after the surf ‘look’ that I’m going after! So no old nag cracks please – especially from Continue reading
I am not climbing Carrauntoohil today. I am in Kerry, I am in Killarney, I am staying at the Mountain Lodge of explorer, adventurer and mountain mentor Pat Falvey; but I am still not climbing Carrauntoohil today.
Pat has a group going up alright; all anxious and excited with crampons and ice-axes, in search of snow and ice in Curved Gulley. I envy them a little, but I am not going with them. I haven’t been on a hill for a couple of months, and halfway through a six hour hike in winter conditions is not the time to discover you’re not hill fit. Especially when you know the answer before you start.
I did get the invitation to join them though, and I couldn’t resist the lure of at least walking in to the foothills.
I had a late and sociable night, finally rolling into my duvet around 2am. When the alarm kicked up a racket at 7am it was still inky dark outside. I shivered, punched my pillow, and considered rolling back into the arms of sleep. A little part of me wondered ‘what was the point of joining the hike if I wasn’t going to climb the mountain’.
The smell of Continue reading
Two ferries back and forth across the Irish Sea, 3 countries in as many days, and a whole lot of car miles. The bank holiday weekend is over and I’m on to stage two of my adventure. Continue reading
I would love to say that I saw grown men weep as I swam past in a flurry of sparkling droplets. That didn’t quite happen, but I did actually swim past a man or two. Quite a few in fact. My second big river race left me scoring quite a personal point or two on the confidence scale. It started out in dread and terror. My train journey from Dublin to Cork for the 2.2k 2015 Vibes & Scribes #LeeSwim was littered with tales of ferocious Continue reading
I love my body. Not in a vain, narcissistic way – but with amazement at the body’s ability to cope with everything life throws at it, and just keep on giving. This moment of introspection doesn’t follow any mad achievement or record-breaking feat. It follows a trip to the physio and the news that I’ve strained my Continue reading
I am now a week into the New Year and fair play, the resolution is holding steady. I’ve been open sea swimming several times, climbed a mountain at a cracking pace, walked and trotted around the first #parkrun of the year, resumed my swimming lessons at DCU and returned to CrossFit. I’m not crazy, just Continue reading
I don’t remember not being able to swim. That doesn’t mean I’m a brilliant swimmer or anything, it just means I’ve always swum for as long as I can remember. But I have to say, taking proper swimming lessons with Karl McEntegart at DCU has been a revelation and such a rewarding thing to do.
Over the last few months he’s been ironing out lots of little faults in my swim technique and showing me why I do certain things, and why some things are more effective. I had a long break out of the pool when I was off climbing mountains in Russia and Spain during the summer (tough life) but getting back into training this month, I found my split times were better than when we started and I was really thrilled with that. That’s progress.
Today was yet another Eureka moment, when we had a look at my Continue reading
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
On Saturday I got to join the Roving Soles Hill Walking Club for part of their Glenmalure Challenge. I got to finish 6 summits and around 24k in 7hrs – they went on to complete 10 summits and 33k. We started from the Glenmalure Lodge, Drumgoff and headed south on the Wicklow Way, taking a forest road for our assent of Carrawaystick Mountain to Corrigasleggaun, to the Saddle of Lugcoolmeen, and up to the summit of Lugnaquilla, Leinster’s highest peak at 931 metres. We descended via Cannow Mountain to Camenabolologue, and I cut out at Table Track for Glenmalure, as the group continued on their way. Thanks to everyone for such a warm welcome on the hill, especially with me hobbling along with my knee braces and sticks. Extremely lovely group… and the bubbles were a bonus!
From Wicklow, I drove to Cork city, catching dinner with a friend before heading on to Youghal where I camped near the sea, ahead of an early 6am start for the DipInTheNip. Close to 200 people joined on a beach near the town to drop their kit and run for the waves, in aid of cancer charities. Old radio buddy PJ Coogan from Cork 96FM led the charge. After a breakfast roll on the beach, I headed for Kerry, pitched my tent in view of the mountains, met briefly with friends, took a two hour stroll in Tomies Wood and finished off a perfect rest-and-recovery day with a plunge into the beautiful ice-cold O’Sullivan’s Cascade, a stunning series of waterfalls and grade 5 kayak route plunging down through the mountains to the lakes of Killarney. Always a magical place for me.
On to the Galtees on Monday, for a tough 8.5hr training hike over 5 mountains with Tony Nation, in preparation for my challenge to climb Elbrus in Russia next month with Pat Falvey’s Irish and Worldwide Adventures. Tony had warned me in advance that today would be tough and he certainly delivered. It was an arduous route, but so incredibly beautiful that it was hard to feel anything other than joy to be out on the hill. We made our way up on to the mountain with a tough climb onto Temple Hill, and climbed up and down around the horseshoe across Ladhar an Chapaill, Carraig na Binne, and Sliabh Chois na Binne, over to Galtymore and exiting down the BlackRoad. Later we heard on the news that a couple of climbers had been rescued after getting caught in a Rhododendron forest, not too far away on the Knockmealdown Mountains. It was a cautionary tale, as I’d been admiring the purple flowered shrubs all day, but Tony had been warning me about their rampant, vigorous growth across the mountains.
Tuesday brought another adventure, when myself and a friend provided kayak-cover for a group of swimmers who were making a crossing from Malahide to Lambay Island, as part of a top-secret art project. We had kind permission to land briefly on the island, which is a nature reserve, and it was a wonderful privilege to have just a fleeting glance at this wonderful, magical place. It was a beautiful day as we headed off into a clear, calm sea, and the crossing was delightfully uneventful until moments before we reached the island. A sea-mist sprung up in seconds, shrouding our landing point in mist. Our approach was marked by dozens of curious seals who heralded our arrival and followed us in to the star-fish spangled beach. We stayed just moments before slipping back into the sea and leaving the peaceful island to it’s misty mystery. A magical experience to add to my list of special memories of Ireland.
A good weekend of training, celebrating friendship and being glad to be alive. Reality returns when I visit the physio tomorrow and get some advice on my injured knee. The Elbrus Clock continues to tick.