Couch To 5km…

 

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Words by Maureen McCoy, Photography by Paul McCambridge

Taking the Couch to 5k running premise into open water swimming was always going to be a challenge but we decided we would attempt it. Our aim; To bring novice swimmers into the outdoors and take the whole group together on a swimming journey. The bonus would be to complete the Irish Long Distance Swimming Associations (ILDSA) 5k event on 5th August. We were not short of enthusiastic Lake-landers who chose to take it on.

After only ten weeks of training, 16 swimmers completed the swim from Culky Jetty to the Lakeland Forum.

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We started the programme in early June and met our swimmers for the first time at the Share Centre, Lisnaskea. For many this was their first venture into open water and they were somewhat nervous. Lough Erne waterways are not the chlorinated blue of the swimming pool with guide-lines painted along the floor and the deep end clearly marked. Here, there are no walls to stop and rest at and the great expanse of the lough can make one feel rather vulnerable.

 

Having spent our first few sessions in the relative security of the Share Centre bay, we then went to a “wild” swim spot at Ely Lodge Forest, near Carrickreagh Jetty. As Paul and I set out the markers for the swim course, the group chatted nervously among themselves and geared up for an abrupt jump in from the jetty into these new, unknown waters. Gritting their teeth and determining they would “go for it” on this swim. We then called them together for their pre-swim briefing; “Instead of entering at the jetty, we’ll walk in here and ease our way through the reeds.” This slow and gentle transition from land to water marked an increased understanding for many.

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Outdoor swimming is not about times and distances, it is about exploring and enjoying, it can become an adventure in a morning, an afternoon or evening. It is about being connected and immersed, time and distance covered are secondary to the senses and sensations. This, particularly for one of the less confident swimmers, was a turning point. To stop comparing and berating oneself for being slow or cataloguing distances, instead to marvel in one’s own progression and achievement. To really experience what we are doing, at the time of doing.

 

Carrying this new-found knowledge and confidence and with a long swim under their belts, the challenges were then ramped up with a circumnavigation of Devenish Island.

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On the 29th July, only nine weeks into training, the group undertook their most exposed swim yet. Accompanied by Darragh, Conleth and Kealan in kayaks, thirteen swimmers, Paul and I entered at Trory Jetty for the approximate 3.8k swim around the island.

 

The swim across to re-group at Devenish Jetty gave us opportunity to iron out any niggles. Goggles were fixed, photos taken and then we set off. The shallow waters around Friar’s Leap brought the challenge of swimming through heavily weeded sections. Then the stretch along the far side past Devenish West Jetty, began to feel like it would never end. Where was the top of this island?

As we finally rounded the top of Devenish swans watched us from the cover of the tall reeds and a large Heron passed overhead. Through those same reeds, we could just make out the shore and not much farther, Trory Jetty, our finish point. Relief was visible as we turned into the sheltered lee of the island, the toughest swim to date.

 

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One week later, the sun was out, nerves were increasing and the ILDSA event was about to get underway. The ILDSA Championship Swim in Lough Erne is in its 26th year, 17k being the main event then some years ago a 25k swim was added. Now, to attract more swimmers, the shorter distances of 10 and 5k have been added. As we waited at Culky Jetty to start, our eyes were peeled for the lead swimmer to come through, then we would be popped in the water to begin our swim to the Lakeland Forum.

Sunshine beamed down on us as we waited with high spirits. Ciara Doran led the 17k, with cheers and clapping the swimmers were spurred on and now keen to get started themselves. This was it, all training done; “I’ll see you at the finish!”

 

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Line up, countdown and off. Chaperoned by our kayakers and kayaks and paddleboarders from Erne Paddlers, they were underway.

 

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All sixteen Couch to 5k swimmers completed the distance in faster times than estimated. Most wore wetsuits, however two swam “skins” – meaning a normal swim suit.

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Inspired by the 25k and 17k Championship swimmers, who must only wear swim suits, many of the couch to 5k are planning to remove their wetsuits for the next time!

Paul and I would like to thank John Boyle of Waterways Ireland who sponsored this pilot event. Our kayakers, Darragh, Conleth and Kealan McCambridge who gave great encouragement to the swimmers throughout the programme.

Robert Livingstone of the Share Centre and his staff for use of the excellent facilities at Share. Erne Paddlers and the ILDSA event organisers for allowing us to join the 5k event and swim in wetsuits.

(Wetsuit times were recorded separately from “skins” swimmers.)

Finally, well done to all the Couch to 5k participants. Of the 20 who attended the course, 3 decided a shorter distance would be more within their capabilities (one of whom swam Devenish) and one swimmer was on holiday – I am expecting a report that he competed a suitable long swim while there!

So pleased to have set you on this journey!

@MAC Visual Media - Paul McCambridge

Testimonials

Thanks so much to Maureen, Paul and the 3 lads for all their help and encouragement. The course was inspirational and transformative, a master class. – B M

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… thank you Mo, Paul and all the lads for Kayak support. What a top class course and an unforgettable event yesterday. Truly inspirational and looking forward to Long Distance swimming with you guys for the future. – E C

erwin

Totally appreciate all the time, effort and commitment that went into getting us further in our swimming than I ever thought possible. Such inspirational, encouraging people. Proud to know you. – M E

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Thanks so much guys. – J B

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A year ago, I would have laughed at anyone suggesting I could do a 5k swim. I just needed a bit of a push! …it was inspiring to see the longer distance swimmers and consider what the next challenge might be.  Thanks again for all your hard work organising the course and for all your encouragement and overall positivity. – T F

@MAC Visual Media - Paul McCambridge

Thanks Maureen and Paul, great event and few weeks training –  T B

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Thanks again Maureen, Paul and kayak support over the weeks. Really enjoyed the whole experience. – P L

@MAC Visual Media - Paul McCambridge

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”

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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