Sheena Paterson V. President ILDSA 1954 – 2014

Sheena Paterson  – 1954 – 2014

Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge 

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Today Bangor Boats set sail to bid a fond farewell to one of the stalwarts of the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association, Sheena Paterson. Brian Meharg took two Oceans Seven swimmers, Darren Millar and Kimberly Chambers, and me out to lay Sheena’s wreath into the North Channel, the stretch of water she had such affinity with. Before we left the shelter of the harbour Brian read a poem and then we motored out, with the waves crashing against the prow of the boat and the spray whipping across our faces. Well out into the channel we stopped the engine and on behalf of Sheena’s ILDSA family, Brian and I faced towards Scotland and threw the bouquet into the sea saying our last goodbye to a good friend.

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“This is my wee piece of water. I love it here.” Sheena told me of Donaghadee and the North Channel and as the first woman to swim the Copeland Islands to Donaghadee I think she could claim that for her own. Sheena had a real love for the sport and encouraged so many swimmers, giving back to the community more than her share.

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Welcoming Michelle Macy on her North Channel record breaking swim.

ILDSA President Billy Wallace, Maureen McCoy, Michelle Macy and Sheena

Sheena was an inspiration to many and a friend to me, with always a hug and words of encouragement to greet me at the beginning of an event, then another hug and congratulations at the finish. Sheena’s was the face I would see at the end of every Lough Erne 17km, urging me to sprint into that wall, her finger poised over the stopwatch button. She showed me how, as an observer, to “never take your eyes off the swimmer. No matter how uncomfortable you are, they will be more so.” and she certainly practiced what she preached. Many times I would see her, coat zipped up tight against the wind and rain but she wouldn’t leave her post until every swimmer was accounted for.

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Sheena, Kevin Murphy and Alison Streeter, King and Queen of the Channels

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Anna Corin Nordin on her 1st Female Oceans Seven Swim

 

After yesterdays’ funeral service at Newtownards, where Sheena arrived in her own unique style in a beautiful woven coffin then had us smiling through tears, feet tapping to Status Quos “Rockin’ all Over the World!” the eulogy was so very her. Sheena’s family asked us to take the ILDSA wreath to do something with and so we thought one last trip into the channel was a fitting tribute.

My hat off to you Sheena, one of a kind, I will miss you and glad to have known you.

Maureen

Thanks to Brian Meharg, Bangor Boats for taking us out. Jeff Wilson, ILDSA, for organising the wreath. Margaret Smith, a good friend of Sheena’s, who’s idea it was, and Paul for taking the pictures.

“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”

BT N I Press Photographers Association – Sports Feature Picture of the Year

This image of our own Maureen McCoy ‘Winter Dip’ at Murlough Bay, Dundrum, Co Down won the Sport Feature Award at the Hilton Hotel, Belfast. The N. I. Press Photographers Association awarded Paul’s image of Mo, who trains regularly at Murlough Bay throughout the year, winter included, the prestigious accolade.

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Bloody Bridge River Rock Pools

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge

“You don’t actually get in and swim, do you?” This is often the incredulous question we are asked when we inform others of our intentions to venture out for a winter swim. Quickly followed by exaggerated shivers and a look that relays considerable concern for our mental stability, you know that look. If you’re the swimmer, you’ve received it and if you’ve not yet tried a REALLY cold swim, then you’ve probably given it to someone who has. Check the mirror, it may be on your face now…
Still, if you’re reading this, you’re curious – Yes, it hurts. Yes, it takes ones’ breath away and yes, it IS amazing. Your skin tingles, the sharp intake of breath as you enter the water, the thoughts that you can’t do it and then the realization that you can and, what’s more, you are going to. Okay, so it’s pride that takes over, someone else has gone first, you can’t turn back now and lose face, so you grit your teeth, clench and unclench your hands take a deep breath and… wait… just another moments’ preparation, delay, before the inevitable.
Shocking cold wraps your neck, pain cuts across your cheeks and every muscle in your back tightens. But as you try a few fast, uneven strokes you find that you can cope, those tight muscles may protest but they don’t tear, when you lift your face out of the water the pain in your sinuses eases and you feel the first flush of euphoria.
You tell yourself, “Next time I’ll get straight in, none of this faffing and going slowly, it doesn’t make it any warmer!”
I tell myself this every time, yet every time I go through the same routine! Still, I love it!

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King and Queen of the North Channel Honoured by ILDSA

ILDSA HONOURS SWIMMING GREATS AT AWARDS NIGHT

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge

King and Queen of the English Channel, Kevin Murphy and Alison Streeter, are crowned King and Queen of the North Channel, at the ILDSA Awards Night in Newry.

Even our own award winners’ achievements over the past year pale before these two and their myriad swims. Alison, amongst many other swims, has 43 English Channels, including being the first woman to achieve a triple crossing, and 3 North Channels, also the first woman and the first to swim Scotland to Ireland. Kevin has 34 English Channel swims, including 3 doubles, and 3 North Channels. Both have other swims too numerous to mention.

Alison had me in awe of how she can be so humble now about her phenomenal achievements, but as she told us that evening, that part of her life is in the past. Alison was genuinely pleased and surprised at receiving a standing ovation and said she has a soft spot for the ILDSA and the Irish, who have always made her feel very welcome and she wanted to thank everyone for supporting her in the past.

Brian Meharg, Master of Ceremonies, told me how he has been good friends with Alison since she first came here to swim the North Channel and related how, on her last swim in 1997, Brian’s wife Carina was pregnant and already a week overdue.  Brian smiled as he told me he was torn between staying home for his “fatherly duties” or heading out on the swim.  So, he headed on the swim and, as Carina waved them off, Alison firmly told her not to have the baby until after the swim was completed, adding that she would prefer if they both waited till Alison’s own birthday, 29th August.

Against all odds the dutiful baby did indeed wait and Rachel Alison Meharg arrived a further week late to share her birthday, and her name, with Alison Streeter as requested.

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The swimming part of Alison’s life is now firmly behind her and she has moved on to pastures new, breeding Alpaca on her farm in Wales and following her own spiritual journey. Animated, she chatted about her two new baby Alpaca and the exquisitely fine wool Alpaca hair produces wholeheartedly laughing as Carina described her own dog as “My baby!”

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Seeing Eye to Eye, Kevin and Padraig

Looking at Padraig Mallon standing with King of the Channel, a comment reached my ears. “Padraig could be a clone of Kevin, separated at birth by a few miles – and years!” Perhaps a degree of similarity can be seen between the two, I’ll allow you to make your own decisions on that.  As Padraig is beginning his adventure in ever more challenging open water events, he clearly shows a great respect for a man who has wealth of knowledge.

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Alison’s genuine words of encouragement to the gathering made me smile, although I do not quite believe her statement; “Anyone could do what I have done.” And, “Perhaps I have a great deal of bloody-mindedness!” It was nice to hear how she felt so welcomed in Ireland and that was why she kept coming back, Mercedes Glietze I believe, said something similar, even our bitter cold and hated jellyfish didn’t put these great ladies off!

With such a small community here in Ireland, there is a great mix in the swimming world with the uber-endurance swimmers rubbing shoulders (sometimes literally) with the sprinters and the leisure swimmers – many of us would see ourselves in more than one category – we all enjoy the great outdoors, and all deserve the hot chocolate/hot toddy after, the community spirit growing ever stronger.

Cus D’Amato said of a boxer, ”Knowing what he goes through, the very act of climbing into that ring stamps him a person of courage and discipline,” same could be said of these swimmers awarded by ILDSA, the open water, their boxing ring.

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Christmas Day Dip 2013, Newcastle Co. Down

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photographs by Paul McCambridge

Cries of “Happy Christmas!” mixed with “I’m cold already and I haven’t even got in yet!” greeted me as I arrived at Newcastle harbour where the crowd in various stages of undress milled about in anticipation.

11.30am Christmas morning, in Santa hats, Christmas dresses and bright swim-suits and all in festive spirit, giggling nervously and rubbing hands, we made our way down the slipway and huddled together for a group photo. The RNLI crew shouted their support from a rib sitting just outside the harbour as around 30 people braved the sea.  Swimming and wading, holding hands and trying to keep hats from falling into the brine, laughs and grimaces against the cold and the age-old calls echoed around the harbour-

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“I can’t feel my hands!”

“My toes hurt!”

And; “Don’t you feel so – ALIVE!” –

Does that feeling of vitality and newness ever wear off?  Seeing the mix of generations, teenagers, parents and grandparents makes me think, no, it mustn’t. It’s why pockets of people all around the country do this daily, weekly, year after year.

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I joined Kathleen and her granddaughters, Rachel and Emma, holding hands as we picked our way over the rocks trying not to stub our toes. When we reached the sand, Emma lifted each foot and pulled off her flip flops, turned and threw them back to the shore. As she did, Rachel leaned forward and started a swift head-up front crawl out towards the buoy, Emma quickly followed. We each swam out around the buoy and back, then met again in the shallows and joined hands to make our way safely out.

Dressed and some hugging hot-water bottles, we squeezed into the RNLI station for tea, coffee and mince pies, a chance to catch up and for organizer Kathleen to thank everyone for raising funds for this years’ charity in aid of Motor Neuron Disease. Soon we parted, with cheeks glowing, to head home for the rest of the days’ festivities. A lovely start to Christmas Day!

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MURLOUGH BEACH – Newcastle

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Twilight swim at Murlough
Words by Maureen McCoy
Photography by Paul McCambridge
As I stood and looked out on the evening calm the air stirred and breathed in my ear, everything was still. A gentle sigh as the Sea swept across the sand and clouds drifted low on the Mournes in a smoky evening sky as the last few dogs and their walkers left the beach.
With the lights beginning to twinkle on in Newcastle I walked to the waters’ edge. Toes numb as sharp pins pricked my calves, my knees felt the pain of cold then my thighs raised in goose-bumps as I walked on, glad there were no waves to shock my still warm and dry upper body. I dipped my hands in, oh the shiver as I gently lifted the water and smoothed it down my arms, more boldly passing it over my shoulders and the back of my neck. I grit my teeth and dipped under, bouncing up again quickly – the air warmer than the chill sea.  Again a dip under and this time remaining submerged I took a few strokes, my back tightening in protest against the cold, the skin pulling taut across my muscles, but yet I was able to swim, even the icy cold across my face did not deter. I was glad of the two caps pulled down well over my ears and tight to the rim of my goggles. The seal was good and no water leaked in, yet I could not help but shiver at the thought that some of that icy brine could seep its way under my cap and creep into my ear.
I ran from the water and jogged up the beach, my body warmed and I felt revitalized, alive, almost glowing.  The ridges of sand were hard underfoot and I kept on my toes, splashing through the shallow puddles left by the low tide, warm now but soon to be swamped by the returning sea.
Dressed again I walked back through the dunes as the dim light seeped away.

Ballymorran Bay – Strangford Lough

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photos by Paul McCambridge

Jon and Sarah, silhouetted against the gleaming water, little splashes from their hands becoming sparkling diamonds in the air as we swam in the low November sun.

We were taking advantage of the dwindling sunny days and with the winter fast approaching, to swim out across the bay toward Darragh Island.  The plunge was taken and the brutal chill awakened every sense in my body as we settled our breathing and then began to swim through knife-like cold, clear water. Jon and Sarah took great delight in introducing me to this secret spot their family have come to for years. They told me how there is now a community of wild goats on Darragh and that as you swim closer to the island there is a deep crevasse where one can feel the temperature drop suddenly as one swims into the deeper water.

Returning to the pier I had the urge to dive, as I climbed out, the water covered my feet and I stood amidst the bright yellows and greens of the lichen covered rocks on the 10ft pier wall. I prepared myself for the ice-cream-headache shock when I dived – it didn’t come! Perhaps two caps was insulation enough or brain freeze had already set in, but I simply felt further exhilarated. Sarah joined me, stepping out of her wetsuit to take the plunge in ‘skins!’ Bravely she jumped in with a cry; “You’d better have taken a photo of this!”

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The water felt fresh and clean and the jellies gone for the winter. The family must have had a blissful summer coming to this quiet spot in the hot weather to picnic and play.

As we helped each other into our warm clothes I extolled the virtues of fleece joggers and pyjamas, and thermal socks, easy to slip into with numb toes and sticky, half dried Skin.

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BLUE LOUGH – Mournes, Co Down

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge

Nestled in the centre of the Mournes Annalong valley, the Blue Lough is well-known to hill walkers and provides a lovely, cool dip after a hard days walking. I have often waded into this pretty Lough on a hot day, a favourite after climbing Slieve Binnian, walking along the tors and then the fast descent getting hot, and ready for a breath-taking dip in the fresh water!

On a hot day in July I brought Michelle and Erin up to this spot and after around thirty minutes of walking we rounded the Percy Bysshe and they had their first glimpse of the lough, surrounded by purple heather and tufts of Bog Cotton, the dark peaty water reflected the blue sky and clouds above.

We quickly discarded our walking shoes, stripped to our swimsuits and picked our way through the stones at the edge to drop down into the cool water, refreshing our hot faces and cooling our limbs. The scene was peaceful and quiet as we explored the lough, gazing up at Lamagan slabs to one side and Slieve Binnian on the other. We spent a good few hours in this lazy mood, climbing out to dry off in the hot sun, followed by another dip in the lough each time we got too warm.

Although easy to get to and a suitable walk for most families, one gets the sense of being right in the centre of the mountains, miles from civilisation.

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Down time for Michelle

Blue Lough     Annalong Valley         Mournes          Co Down

Blue Lough is situated above the Annalong Valley, between Lamagan Slabs and the North Tor of Slieve Binnian.  The route to the Lough is an easy walk from Carrick Little car park.  Follow the path alongside Annalong Wood, soon you will cross the river and the path rises up, passing Percy Bysshe you will see the small Lough straight ahead. 

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Darragh and Conleth enjoying one of the hottest days in the summer of 2010

North Channel Record Broken – Time 9:34:39

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North Channel Record and Oceans 7 Success for Michelle Macy – 15th July 2013
Words by Maureen McCoy
Photography by Paul McCambridge
Michelle Macy, the second female to conclude the Oceans Seven series of open water swims, did so in great style by finishing her final swim, the North Channel, in the record time of 9 hours 34 minutes and 39 seconds.
Just one week after first lady, Anna-Carin Nordin of Sweden, swam into the history books, Minnesota born Michelle was hot on her heels and finished the series also breaking Alison Streeter’s North Channel record, unbeaten for 25 years.
At 4.30 am on Monday 15th July 2013, Michelle and her crew met at Donaghadee harbour ready to load onto the ‘Guy and Clare Hunter’, a refurbished lifeboat piloted by Quinton Nelson. Via radio the Coastguard wished “Best of luck to the swimmer” as we motored round to Robby’s Point. In the grey-blue light just before the sun rose Michelle climbed onto the rocks, raised her arm signalling she was ready and at 5.00am, just as the red orb of the sun crept over the horizon, began to swim towards Scotland. With her toe-nails painted in a new green varnish – “Resolution” Michelle was off. In the first 40 minutes speedy Michelle had covered 2.3 miles and after an hour took her first feed, a warm energy drink, from here on she would stop every 30 minutes.
At 5 miles out, a seal popped his head up, he returned often during the swim, earning himself the nick name of ‘Curious George’, intrigued but keeping a cautious distance. Accompanied by kayaker, Conleth McCambridge to help guide her course in the chilly 13C water, Michelle soon encountered the North Channels renowned moon and lions-mane jellyfish. By 6.30 am Michelle had a lot of Lions-mane stings but, “My skin’s so cold I can’t feel them.” The hours went by with Michelle’s consistent stroke a steady metronome as each hand entered the water.
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3 ½ hours into the swim and bizarrely a lone Nike football drifted past “How random!” said Nike employee Michelle as the ball was rescued by the kayaker, a good luck charm perhaps? At each feed Erin, friend and training partner, would don various silly hats and wigs to keep Michelle’s spirits up Large laminated photos of friends back home were held out to remind her how much she was being supported. 4 hours 42 minutes into the swim and we had crossed the half-way point, now officially in Scottish fishing waters, “That’s the easy half done.” said pilot Quinton, “the push into Scotland is the hardest part of the swim”.  Michelle was getting colder and suffering more jellyfish stings but holding her pace and in the calm conditions with just a gentle swell, making good progress. By 12 noon, Quinton had the record in his sights and said, “If she can pick it up for 2 hours, we could have this swim finished.” Earlier quips about lunch in Portpatrick suddenly seemed within grasp. Michelle was asked to pick up her pace, “I’m doing the best I can! I’m not sure if it’s the cold or the stings but I can’t feel much.” By 1 o’clock tension was mounting, Michelle was looking strong but all were aware of how difficult the last couple of miles at the Scottish coast can be and with the tide bearing us south we held our hopes that she would get the record time. When asked for another hours push Michelle said “An hour is all I have.” We’ll have it then please.
At 1.22pm Michelle swam face first into a jellyfish, stopping abruptly she let out an angry shout and slapped the water with two hands – on the support boat we weren’t sure if it was jellies or frustration but, “If she’s got the energy to shout and slap she’s got the energy to get this finished fast!” was Erin’s comment. At 2 o’clock we gave Michelle the news that the record was in her grasp – this would her last feed – it was time to get this done.
After 9 hours 34 minutes and 39 seconds, Michelle climbed out of the sea at the cliffs just south of Portpatrick and finished the North Channel and her Oceans 7 quest.
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We motored into Portpatrick harbour and Michelle was able to get a hot shower, when asked was she doing okay, she called, “I’m going to stay in here for 9 hours and 34 minutes!”
ILDSA President and Vice President Billy Wallace and Sheena Paterson arrived at Donaghadee as we unloaded the boat to congratulate North Channel record breaker and Oceans 7 swimmer, Michelle.
Well done Michelle, it was a pleasure to be observer for you on a super swim and I look forward to Alaska!
Maureen
Read about Michelle’s paddle in Blue Lough
ILDSA President Billy Wallace, ILDSA Observer Maureen McCoy, Michelle Macy and Vice President Sheena Paterson
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