Winter Solstice Ice Swim Ireland – 3rd Session

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photos by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

Today, a choppy and windy swim was followed by me, and each swimmer, being bundled into a warm, wood-panelled cabin. A hot towel was thrown around my shoulders and a cosy fire burning in the stove, what a treat! I was soon comfortable, hugging my hot water bottle and sadly contemplating braving the outside world again, just a few minutes more though.

It was a rude introduction into todays’ swim. I usually take my time, walk in slowly and huff and puff before I’ll even get my hands wet but, with the boys all striding with purpose down the carpeted slipway and launching themselves straight in, I felt a little rushed. So, not wanting to be left behind, I walked further and faster than usual, then promptly fell off the end of the runway! Nothing for it but to swim on and do my puffing as I swam, with the first pink buoy teasingly bobbing on the waves, chuckling as I approached and the added menace of a leaky goggle. In all fairness, the kayakers were on the ball, as one came racing over to me I quickly shouted “It’s the goggles!” before I would be whipped out to safety.

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I enjoy choppy water but today felt colder than the last time I was in – yet it was a degree milder – that’s the wind-chill effect. I’m sure not the effect of Friday evenings Christmas celebrations! Honest, I only had hot chocolate last night and then early to bed.

As ever at Camlough, there was a wealth of happy supporters, spirits were high and the atmosphere was buzzing, so much so that David couldn’t resist an impromptu dip!

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I hope you enjoyed it!!

Thank you to all the Camlough team for a well organised event – (despite Padraig still being mean!)

And thanks to all the Ice swim volunteers, it’s so good to be welcomed by so many friendly faces encouraging and helping – you all know what it feels like and those of us swimming really appreciate your time and effort.

Happy Yuletide

 

…and Safe Swimming to one and all!

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Camlough Lake Ice Mile Training

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

The last Sunday in November and a crowd of us gathered at Doyle’s bar in the centre of Camlough village. Nervous excitement permeated the air as we each debated our own sanity at even contemplating the journey we were embarking upon.

A queue weaved its way first into the bar to sign waiver forms and register, then back-tracked through the narrow porch and into the snug, where in turn we each rolled up our sleeves to have our blood pressure checked – despite my occasional case of “white-coat syndrome”, I was pronounced fit to swim. Not sure whether to be pleased, a high BP would have been a great excuse! Oh how good we swimmers are at finding excuses!

The briefing then started with Padraig Mallon sharing some of his hard-found wisdom with us, little tricks of the trade to help calm anxiety, finding a mantra that works for oneself – I have a super one for getting up hills when hiking or cycling; “Buns of steel – Thighs of iron!” (Yes, I can dream on but it gets me up the hill every time!)

So far my swimming mantra is more based on; “The stronger I pull the sooner I get there!”  It doesn’t work so well when one’s swimming for time rather than distance though.

Nuala Moore then gave us an entertaining but also slightly sobering talk on what to expect and how to conduct ourselves. The onus is on each and every one of us to be responsible for ourselves and our own safety. Yes, there is a team of willing volunteers but let’s keep their job as easy as possible.

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Down to the lake-side and as we gathered on the slipway a team of kayakers headed out to escort us round the 250m loop. As is my usual want, I hung around – I can faff with the best of them but once I started, I felt not too bad although my cheeks were cold and I was glad I’d remembered ear-plugs. I hate that one little drop of cold water that always seems to seep in no matter how far I pull the cap down over my ears.

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As we gathered to start I saw Donna hugging her Chill swim float, “Have you a hot-water bottle in there?” (Shh! That might be an idea for next time!) The first challenge was to complete 750m before the first whistle was blown and the 20 minute swim group left the water. Continuing to kick I tried to maintain heat, remembering as Nuala said, “If you stop kicking, your little bum muscles will tense up and you won’t be able to kick,” made me smile. By 30 minutes my smile was wearing off, I could feel my hands beginning to tense and the baby finger on my right hand was creeping out. I clenched and opened my hands to try to pull it back into line but the stubborn baby seemed bent on getting out of there – leaving the rest behind if need be!

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The next turn around the marker and the call was “3 minutes left. Don’t swim too far.” Hooray! I can thole another few minutes. When the three whistle blasts sounded our time up, I dashed for the shore. I raced to my feet and as I thought a well-deserved pat on the back when Padraig quietly said “Well done. Now get back in and swim out to that rib and back.” You are MEAN Padraig Mallon!

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Dried and dressed in several layers it was a pleasure to gather around the braziers burning merrily on the lake shore as we congratulated each-other.

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Thanks to CLWF, mean Padraig, Ger and nice Nuala for setting up this program and I look forward to our next session.

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“11 Feet” Never gave an inch to conquer North Channel

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L-R Adrian, John, Jacqueline, Alison, Barry and David

’11 Feet’ – Never Gave An Inch!

Words by Maureen McCoy

Picture by Paul McCambridge – MAC Visual Media

When David Burke was asked to sign a piece of paper without reading it, he knew he had let himself in for a big challenge.

Having had his left leg amputated above the knee, at the age of only seven, after being hit by a car while watching a stock-car race in Dundalk. David was then determined to learn to swim, he told me how, when he went to lessons with his school, the other children would play and splash about but “I worked and worked at my swimming.” He went on to compete at the Paralympic games in the 400 metres Freestyle; “I never liked sprinting!”

David recently returned to swimming through triathlon events, “I saw people posting their achievements online and I thought; I could do that.” So his open water journey began 3 years ago, training with the Newry Triathlon club, Co Armagh, and then venturing into Camlough Lake.

Last years “Around the Rock” 1.5 km swim at Warrenpoint almost stopped his ambitions. “It was brutal. I was upside-down and thrown everywhere. I came out of that swim petrified. I wasn’t going to swim again.” But he was signed up to swim the following week in a triathlon.

The day before the triathlon, his friend and mentor, Padraig Mallon, completed his own English Channel solo. “After Padraig achieved that I can’t pull out of a 1 mile swim!” so, David faced his fear. “I had a fantastic swim! The quickest amputee there!” he joked. “Towards the finish line I realized I was alone. I thought; either I’m the very last and everyone’s gone or I’m out in front.” It wasn’t until he crossed the line and looked back that he found he was indeed ahead, finishing in 4th place.

Why the North Channel? “I was press-ganged. After last years’ Camlough 5km swim, Padraig took me for a meal, he passed me a piece of paper and said – Sign this, don’t look at it, just sign it, you can read it after. Another friend at the table said; I’m a Doctor, I’ll witness it.” So David signed and was then allowed to read the challenge, a North Channel relay attempt, signed and sealed, two years to deliver.

Training began and winter swimming was on the table, the whole team worked together, supporting each-other through the highs and lows of winter sea swims and building stamina in the pool. The Feel Alive Club was born and stalwarts Alison Cardwell, Jacqueline Galway, Adrian Poucher, John McElroy, Barry Patterson and David were joined by many others in their regular dips in Carlingford Lough. Alison, the most experienced swimmer on the team, has competed for several years in ILDSA events and won Ulster Open Water swimmer of the Year 2013, after completing, amongst other swims, the 25km Lough Erne Challenge. Although the entire team have taken part in various open water events and triathlons for a number of years, the North Channel, a 21 plus mile swim in waters rarely above 12’C is no light under-taking.

Social media messages fired back and forth and as the year progressed the training became more intense. David told me in March how he was feeling more ready, “Compared to how I felt four weeks ago, I now feel more mentally prepared, I know there’s a long way to go yet but every time I get in I learn something more.”

By the 5th of July the lessons learned have paid off, the six strong team of Alison Cardwell, Jacqueline Galway, John McElroy, Adrian Poucher, Barry Patterson and David Burke – “11 Feet” achieved their goal by swimming the North Channel in 12 hours 52 minutes. Each taking a 1-hour stint in the water with David having the honour of both starting the swim and taking the final strokes to the Scottish shore. “I was absolutely shattered, the tide was pushing us from right to left and the wash was bouncing back off the shore. I hit more jelly-fish in the last 20 minutes than in the rest of the swim!”

“We as a team set out to conquer a wee piece of water yesterday, six swimmers and a great support crew. I had the honour of finishing it but would not have unless everyone on board stood up and were counted. Whatever praise comes in about me being the first amp to do it is all your praise as we trained as team suffered as a team and succeeded as a team. To each and everyone one of you we really have done something that will forever bind us. To Padraig thanks for taking me to such a lovely place. To Martina my rock when I was tired and cold, thank you. My dad always blamed himself for my accident and went to his grave thinking that, but yesterday he swam beside me (pity he didn’t remove the jellies). So Dad this ones for you”

CAMLOUGH LAKE, Co Armagh

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Irish International Triathlete Aileen Reid(nee Morrison) training in Camlough

Camlough Lake

I did a lot of my channel training at ‘Crooked Lake’ Camlough. The lake is calm, sheltered, with easy access from a wide slipway, providing an ideal training ground.

I love the days when I do a long swim down the lake, seeing the sun stream down over Slieve Gullion. Aiming for the V formed by the two hills at the far end, swimming past an old pontoon on the right hand side, a favourite spot for herons to perch. As the winter deepened the local fishermen looked on in amazement as I stripped down to my cossie and waded into the cold water.  Deep breaths as the cold chilled my skin, I would count –1 – 2 – 3 – GO!  Off with a fast front crawl to generate some heat in my muscles on the 250m out to the first buoy, I would then settle into my stroke heading around the second buoy to complete a lap of 750m at the slipway.

A co-incidental meeting in Dover the week prior to my channel swim caused me to bump into a group of fellow Camlough ‘training ground’ swimmers returning from their successful stag do relay swim.  Since then, this group of Camlough and Newry locals have been organising superb events at the lake.

This previously hidden gem in South Armagh hit the world stage when more than three hundred swimmers from all over Ireland and beyond joined the local community to continuously swim for nine days.  On the 9th of the 9th 2009 the Guinness World Record for the longest ever relay swim was smashed.

Following on from that success Camlough Lake has grown in popularity and 2010 saw the inaugural Camlough Water Festival, a weekend of kayaking, water-polo, short swims, 5k and 10k swimming races.

Go down to the lake in the summer and you will find something of a carnival atmosphere with children paddling, swimmers and triathletes enjoying the water, you are likely to be welcomed by some hardy folk, including Bridgeen, Micky or Milo, who have been swimming there since the mid 80’s.

More on Camlough Water Festival http://www.clwf.eu

Words By Maureen McCoy

Photography By Paul McCambridge

Enter from the slipway on the Crossmaglen road, where you will see marker buoys forming a 750m loop from the slipway – further buoys have been added creating a variety of circuits, detailed on the map below.  Newry Triathlon club have set up a container here providing a changing facility and storage for safety equipment.  They run events through the year, triathlons and occasional night swims.

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Above Open Water Swimmer Colleen Mallon 

Course Map and Safety Information Below

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