Killary Fjord Swim

I’m not fit, I’m a little fat, and I’ve just turned 44 years old……and?

Well I started to feel a little guilty about not being active. My therapist said I shouldn’t make rash decisions and take things slow and steady. So, when my friends, Sharon and Ash invited me along to take part in a Fjord swim in Mayo I had to take the recommendations of a professional and decline the offer. However, I thought long and hard about it and decided that the women needed some moral support and I should attend in an advisory/spectatory capacity……

It was also agreed that partners should come. Brian, Andrew and Fiona were like bad dancers and promised, like me, to be supportive to Sharon and Ash in this massive undertaking.

The women, one who turned 44 years old on the day of the swim and the other a healthy 45 years of age had been training hard over the past few months.

Sharon- sporty spice of the group had completed marathons, triathlons, swims etc… Ash was on her Virgin Voyage…… Sharon and Ash had been in the swimming pool at 6.30am four mornings out of seven. Ash even made a friend, a Limerick man named Christy who looked like a really- really skinny Gandalf in speedos.

Ash was so excited.  Like me, she wasn’t the epitome of FITNESS. But she had it in her head that this was her time, she was ready and she was going to DO this. Ash invested in a wet suit, hat, gloves and boots. Sharon already had the gear. Less the hat gloves and boots.

The morning of the race, Ash and Brian were busy preparing breakfast. Sharon is a vegetarian. She drank her liquidised cabbage head and in order not to feel left out Ash made her two poached eggs, that had to be runny…..Vegetarians are so easily pleased…..but imagine not eating black pudding!!!!!!…… you might as well be dead.

The supporters ate a healthy Irish breakfast as they too had a gruelling day ahead (which is very like a full British breakfast which I found out to my amazement while in Liverpool).

There’s never enough thought given to the friends and partners of the fit people. Support is on tap 24/7, travelling hours upon hours (four) to competitions, and anxiously waiting around for the race to start, (the sooner it starts the sooner it’s over). Enduring the elements, and not one umbrella between us. Being surrounded by fit people, and beheld with disgust and pity. Following your person’s every stroke. Wondering, why they train so much and still can’t beat Brigitte Magnusson from Iceland (The big tall blond one, that looked like Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones)……Watching the other 100 competitors cross the finish line. Never giving up hope that someday your person will be in the first, second or even third wave of athletes. Then they pass the finish line, and you think your job is done well, NO!!!!

The wet suit, welded to the body like a second skin. Peeling off the arms and legs, revealing a purple and pink marbled body. This is where the supporters come into their own. Why? Because this is where the shit gets serious.  At this point your person is the walking dead. Their hands numb from the iced water and their teeth chattering in their head, it looks like there’s a set dancing competition going on in their hair. Lips disappear to a purple horizontal thin line, hiding under violet veined noses. I even witnessed a case where a poor unfortunate fit man’s teeth got stuck together and his lips were stuck to his gums, it was frightening to watch. His supporter threw a cup of warm water in his face and he survived, thank God.

The wet suit bundled into a black sack and changed into warm cosy clothes. Fleece socks. Ugg boots, wooley hats. Lee Cooper tracksuit bottom’s, purchased two days before the event for a song in Sports Direct. These events are a never ending challenge for both competitor and supporter.

What hit me was, the typical age of the competitors. Now don’t quote me and this is not a sweeping statement but, EVERYONE was over 40…….like WTF!!!!!! What happens when some people hit 40? I think I might have felt a little panic when I hit forty, I knew I might not be as fit as I should be but fuck me I didn’t go into Bionic man/wonder-woman melt down.  The place was littered with skinny, cold, rubber clad, green shake addicted 40 something year olds.

Am I jealous? No, but what if I’m missing out on something? What if the fit people got an email that said, when you turn 40 years old and  in order to stay alive you had to do all this shit. What if, all these fit people are becoming the superior race? I had to slap myself across the face, stay calm and remind myself that Sharon definitely would’ve forwarded that email to me.

We……( Andrew, Brian, Fiona and me) landed in a situation that was 360 degree opposed to what was our norm.

Andrew and Fiona confidently and defiantly drank their cans of beer while spectating. I thought how lucky I am, to call such brave bastards my Friends. Seemingly soup was the beverage of the day but Andrew being a chef said,” down with that sort of thing and let us all drink beer”. I would have loved to join them but since I was diagnosed with a yeast allergy I have to stick to G&T, and it was too bulky to fit in my bag.  Brian was our “Dessie” (Designated Driver) so he could only smell the alcohol. Admittedly I had a sneaky fag in a deserted boat shed while Sharon and Ash were patiently waiting for the boat to arrive and bring them out to the start of the 750meter swim. The shame and the guilt I felt while inhaling that nicotine despite the fact I was hiding from the offended gaze of the fit people will never leave me.

Anyway the excitement was palpable for Sharon and Ash. They were pumped. Gear on and the mandatory orange illuminous buoy tied around their waste they soldiered one after another like sardines onto the boat to bring them to the starting line.

The supporters(us) got into position to see the start, all we could make out were splashes, blue caps and the odd orange buoy. Brian and Andrew commented on the poor hoor who had swam in the wrong direction, but we really didn’t know who was who. We made a joint decision that our girls were in the middle bunch of swimmers. So when the middle bunch went out of view we moved to the finish line.  After 16 mins the first competitor crossed the finish line. We were delighted, we knew it wouldn’t be long before the two women crossed the finish line and we could go get something to eat and a pint!!!! Fiona, Ash’s partner whispered something into Ash’s ear just before they left to board the boat. I asked Fiona did she give Ash some words of wisdom before the race. Fiona looked at me in bewilderment and said in her best Cork accent Noooo girl, I just told her not to drown and ruin our fucking weekend.

This is why supporters are vital at these events.

Twenty- three minutes and Sharon slides up to the finish line. Looking fresh, her lips a tad purple and her face numb but delighted to be alive. We congratulated Sharon, and asked where Ash was? Sharon said that she thought Ash was ahead of her but obviously they were separated at some stage. We waited anxiously for Ash, knowing that she wouldn’t be too far behind. I had my camera at the ready. I wanted to get a shot of Ash as she crossed the finish line.

Time stood still… or so it seemed. We couldn’t find her anywhere. I looked back at Fiona and I could see the panic on her face. Sharon looked so scared, what had happened to Ash?  Andrew and Brian were expressionless; They hadn’t encountered a situation like this before so they weren’t sure what to do with their faces.

I knew in my heart that she wasn’t dead.

There were too many safety precautions put in place for anyone to drown. That still didn’t answer the question…..where had Ash gone? I felt like I was on an episode of Lost.

Well I knew that this situation was going to elongate the eating part of the weekend and the smell of soup coming from the food tent was driving me mad, but I had to concentrate on our missing friend.

Bodies were still passing the finish line but none of them were Ash. Then Andrew shouted to look at the speed boat to our left. Immediately we turned to face the boat. Sitting in the boat smiling from ear to ear was Ash. I looked back at Fiona, I could hear Sharon giggling in my ear and Andrew and Brian were bent over laughing.  I didn’t know whether to take a photo or not? What had happened?

Then like David Hasselhoff/Pamela Anderson running down the beach smiling from ear to ear is Ash!!!!! One after another each of us asked Ash” What the fuck happened?”

WELL, wait ‘til I tell you, says she……” I swam the wrong way!!!……..I jumped into the water, started to swim, the current was too strong and instead of swimming 750mts I swam 1550mts in the wrong direction. The gloves were too heavy and I had to hand them to your man in the kayak. My boots filled with water and my legs kept floating to the surface. The hat hurt under my chin but I couldn’t take the fucking thing off or I would have died of hypothermia. I was aiming for a buoy but every-time I swam towards it your man in the kayak said that I needed to follow the rest of ye“ pointing at Sharon. ”Then I had to be fucking rescued and put into the boat”.

“But next year I think we should do the 2000 meters swim, cos ur man in the kayak said that the current is behind you in that swim and it won’t be as hard.” None of us answered but there was an understanding in the silence that Ash could go shite!!!!!!

Situations like these are very delicate, so we waited a few seconds before the laughter erupted and the slagging started…. We were filled with a mixture of gratitude and relief that Ash was found safe and sound.

The rest of the weekend was spent in our amazing Airbnb home, eating crisps and chocolate, drinking and looking forward to slagging Ash for the foreseeable future…