Global Open Water Swimming Conference, Cork 2013

Words by Maureen McCoy

Photos by Paul McCambridge

A beaming face greeted me as I entered the packed hall at the reception of the Global Open Water Swimming Conference, with a grin like the Cheshire Cat, Billy Wallace eagerly showed me the photograph he had just been presented with, taken in Belfasts Ormeau Baths in the 1920s, of Mercedes Gleitze after an exhibition swim, where Billys mother had been her attendant and life-guard.  As Billy proudly showed this picture to Mercedes daughter, Doloranda Hannah Pember and me, Doloranda shared in the excitement and began to tell us of her mothers’ interesting career.

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Dolorandas’ eyes sparkled as she explained how Mercedes had not only pioneered open water swims but also travelled the UK and Ireland doing such exhibitions, displaying her aquatic prowess and her passionate belief that women could be strong and capable, in a time when women’s emancipation was still being fought. She told us how, growing up, she knew little of her mothers’ swimming career but then found a wealth of information carefully stored in the attic after her mothers’ death.

She really did not tell us much about her career as a swimmer in fact she swam when she was pregnant with all three of her children, which in those days was unheard of. She did so much to open up things for women.”

Doloranda was inspired to trawl Mercedes papers and researched as many publications as she could find, to compile a definitive book on her mother. It was captivating to listen to this lively lady describe her mother and to hear first-hand about the woman who blazed a trail in swimming and charitable works.

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Mercedes own words clearly show the passion she had for swimming; “Sea swimming is a beautiful thing, in fact an art. An art whose mistress should be not the few, but the many.”

“What could possibly speak more for man’s prowess as an athlete than the ability to master earth’s most abundant, most powerful element – water, no matter what its mood.”

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(Anna-Carin Nordin(1st woman to complete Oceans Seven) and Doloranda)

Mercedes visited Ireland often and attempted the North Channel many times during the 1920’s, Doloranda said; “It was her biggest regret. She always felt that it was possible. After seven attempts, including three on the Mull of Kintyre where she came very close, only a mile from completing.”

The Mull of Kintyre swim was completed for the first time in August 2012 by Wayne Soutter who said; “It was because of Mercedes I attempted the swim, if not for her I would not have done it.”

Paul and I, both having Grandfathers who were open water swimmers, wonder now if perhaps their paths also may have crossed with Mercedes?

Mercedes Gleitze was inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame (www.imshof.org) along with 220 other luminaries and pioneers of the sport of marathon swimming.

Doloranda hopes to publish her book in the near future.

World’s First Lady, Seven Oceans Swim – Anna-Carin Nordin, Sweden

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge

On the 8th July 2013 at 7.11pm, after 14 hours and 21 minutes swimming from Portpatrick in Scotland to Blackhead Bay, Northern Ireland, Anna-Carin Nordin made history as the first woman to complete the Seven Oceans Open Water swimming challenge.

Meeting up with Anna the day after her achievement, she looked fresh and was happy to talk about her journey from the English Channel in 2010, around the world in swims and back. After such a long day before she was still keen to get back in the water for a “cushy” swim and I had the honour of a relaxing dip with this history-maker on another sunny day at Ballyholme.

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North Channel swim…

Brian Meharg, pilot of Anna’s support boat and Anna took the controversial decision to attempt the swim on a spring tide as the race was on with Anna one of  three ladies hoping to complete the North Channel this year and scoop the Seven Oceans 1st Lady title.

“Tide and time wait for no man or woman.” Said Brian, “The weather is good you should go now.” So at 4.50am Anna was in the water at Portpatrick with her hand against the rock face and the swim began. In the first few hours she encountered the swimmers dreaded jellyfish, Anna said “They were below me and spread out so I played a little ‘tricksie’ and was able to swim around them. I was lucky, I didn’t get stung.” She weaved her hand as she spoke showing how she’d avoided the jellies. “At the start of a swim you don’t want to be stung, at the end you are too tired to avoid them.”

Seal of approval…

The highlight of the swim for Anna was mid channel when a large male seal appeared and continued to swim with her for an hour.  “It’s so nice to see something different in the water with you – not jellyfish!” With the water temperature ranging from 11.3’C to 13.8’C, Anna got colder as the day went on, “But I came here to finish the swim, not to fail.”  So she continued on her way into the history books. The petite blond 41 year old from Sweden had just completed the Seven Oceans Swim Challenge with a smile on her face.  Her blue eyes glinting, she told me “My swimming rivals will have to fight for second place now.”

Finishing at 7.11pm on Monday 8th July 2013, Anna was greeted by ILDSA President Billy Wallace at Bangor Marina and Stephen Redmond, the first man to achieve the Seven Oceans, ‘phoned the first lady with his congratulations. Anna will go home to Jattendal, Sweden to a hero’s welcome.

Well done Anna and thank you for the swim and the chat.

2010: English Channel in 12:00:59

October 2011: Molokai Channel in over 18 hours

1 May 2012: Strait of Gibraltar

3 July 2012: Catalina Channel in 12 hours 40 minutes

September 2012: Tsugaru Channel in 19 hours 11 minutes

8 April 2013: Cook Strait in 8 hours 17 minutes

8 July 2013: North Channel in 14 hours 21 minutes

Anna-Carin comparing tan lines with Maureen and Rachel Smith

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