Molly Conroy clearing the ice for her Ireland Ice Swimming Challenge training
Words by Maureen McCoy
Photos by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media
SNAP! – the sound of the ice cracking as Molly stepped into her back garden swimming pond. The sunlight diffusing as it shone through the fence panels, not yet warm enough to make any indentation on the water’s frozen surface. Picking up a slab which looked like a thick piece of frosted glass, Molly tossed it behind her to shatter on the ground. Half an inch thick it lay in the growing pile as she tentatively cleared a path through towards the deeper water.
My toes, I thought were already cold from the bitter water until I placed my foot on the ice, waow! What a shock, almost sticking to the surface, the skin a bright pink vying with my nail polish, I should have brought my skates!
All the time asking ourselves why did we want to do this? the whole Conroy family cheerfully urging us on. Quickly our feet were so numb we could barely feel the ground and our fingers tingled from lifting out the great lumps of ice.
The pond, surrounded by wooden decking, is 25 metres long by 2 lanes wide, 2metres at the deep end and 1.2 at the shallow where steps lead in off a gently shelving toddlers paddling area. A good deal of thought has gone into the design by Ian, using his experience of working in set design and large art installations. Along one side wooden jetties disguise the filtration pumps while creating shallow stoned bays which will be planted out in the spring. For now they serve as excellent access points to the water.
Sitting on the jetty at the deep end, pink feet in the water and frost glinting on the wood we gently lowered ourselves in. Another minute sitting on the edge of the bay, mentally preparing for the next shock of cold and then again I slid very gently down into the water. Breathing out slowly the pain was limited to my fingers and toes, compared to that, the rest didn’t feel too bad! The thick ice stretched across the shaded part of the pond and firstly I wanted as little splashing as possible, secondly I feared I would either cut myself or bruise my hand if I tried to break it!
“Madness!” I hear you say. Yes but a special kind of madness, the urge to pit oneself against the extreme, mind-power over body. Yes, it hurts. Yes it’s cold and no matter how often you tell yourself you know it’s going to be cold and it’s going to hurt, you still cry out as if in surprise. Only those who’ve experienced this know just how cold and how much it hurts and, which is more, you are doing it by choice, for fun. Is it a little crazy? Yes, but many people do it and have done for decades. we expound the health benefits – when I winter swim, I rarely get a cold, when I don’t I am plagued by sniffles and feeling “under-par”. After a cold dip or swim I feel buzzing, revived, energetic and enthused. This is why I do it.
Saturday 7th February 2015, Molly and 15 other local swimmers will push their boundaries in the ICE Challenge and attempt to swim 1000 metres in water under 5’C, and perhaps break the record time! Conroy’s Pond is the venue and with experienced ICE swimmers coming from Scotland, Russia, Estonia and Germany, Ireland has a strong group of dedicated swimmers who have been training for the past four months.
Thank you to the Conroys for allowing me the honour of being the first non-Conroy to swim in your pond and I wish the best to all the Ice swimmers taking part on Saturday – I am with you in spirit on every stroke!
IRELAND ICE SWIM – SATURDAY 7TH FEBRUARY 2015 @ WILD WATER, CO ARMAGH.