The second annual Great Blackwater Swim took place on the 14th of July in Fermoy and, like last year, it was a great success. It is an event that attracts a huge variety of people from experienced open water swimmers to relative novices, for whom not so long ago the idea of swimming 3.5km would have been impossible. Some of our new members wrote an account of their experiences last week and we are sharing them here. Anthony Kenny hadn’t swum much recently, but he decided to give the Great Blackwater swim a go in order to help raise funds for his young cousin who is suffering from a serious spinal injury. Jonathan Kenneally is new to the Blackwater Triathlon Club, but he has been competing in triathlons for a while now and is looking to get in to longer and more challenging events. Ashleigh Byrne is new to triathlons and a year ago struggled to complete the 250 metre swim in the Edge Sports Blackwater Try a Tri event. All three took on the challenge on the day and all three had different experiences and levels of expectation. Here are their stories.
Anthony Kenny: So about 8 weeks ago I took on the challenge of swimming 3.5 km in the 2nd great Blackwater swim. I hadn’t swam much in the previous two years and, if truth be told, was struggling to complete ten lengths of the pool (250 metres) without stopping, so there was plenty of work to do. However, I did have a great incentive to get it done. My cousin Roisin lives in Mayo and is now 8 yrs old. She’s a beautiful, happy child, but when she was 4 she had a freak accident on the couch at home and damaged her spine. As a result of the accident she lost the use of her arms and legs and is now paralysed from the neck down. Roisin’s family is trying to raise funds to make her life better. There is a new spine specialist clinic opened this year is Swindon in the UK and Roisin’s family are hoping to get her over there for treatment. Roisin also needs a new wheelchair that will operate with just her head movement. The one she currently has is a few years old and no longer functioning very well. These are just two of the many expenses they hope to raise money for. She’s a very brave little girl and I figured doing the Great Blackwater Swim was a way that I could help contribute. So before I get to the event itself I’d just like to say that joining the Blackwater Triathlon Club was one of the main reasons I was able to get to a level where I could not only complete the swim, but even do it with a not so shabby time. The club had lots of swimming training organised for members, from pool sessions with a coach to river sessions organised by the club. There was also a lot of advice shared by the more experienced swimmers and any questions or worries sorted. It really is a fantastic club and I’m very glad to be part of it. The race itself was so well organised. Anyone I had talked to about last year’s one had so much good to say about it that it was one of the reason I made it my goal and I think the 220 registrations is testament to how the good word spread. From buses laid on to Micheal Flatleys riverfront mansion at the start to the support from start to finish and the spread of food and drinks at the end, it was a fantastic family friendly event . I always felt very safe in the water with all the kayakers and the brilliant instruction given by Declan O’Keeffe in the pre-race briefing. All in all one of the best events I’ve ever done and one I will definitely be doing it again. Thanks so much everyone for the support I have received for Roisin. I can’t put into words how much it’s appreciated by me and Roisin and her family. If anyone else wants to contribute they can do so at https://www.gofundme.com/roisin-fundraiser.
Jonathan Kenneally: After missing the race last year to a schedule clash as soon as the date was confirmed I signed up. I’m slowly building up my confidence in longer swims so this was going to be perfect practice for it. After giving a hand in the morning I jumped on the last bus out to Castlehyde. I had never been there before but what an amazing setting for a race. The long walk down to the water got the butterflies in the stomach going but the buzz around the garden with all the other competitors meant I soon forgot about what lay ahead and just enjoyed the atmosphere. The water was a bit colder (I was thinking tropical) than I was expecting but still was a perfect way to cool down on such a warm day. We all waited for (Blackwater Triathlon Club Chairman) Shane to give the countdown and once he said go it was arms and legs flying. I had positioned myself a couple of rows back from the front but within seconds there were bodies everywhere and I had to use some of the tricks Julian (Boeg) had shown us as I swam over people without them even knowing or causing any harm as I made room for myself. There was plenty more bumps and knocks as we made our way down the river for the 1st 500m. After that it spread out as everyone found the pace they were happy with. I find it hard to judge how long I am swimming for so I had no idea where I was or how long I was in the water. I was surprised to see so much support on the banks as we worked our way down, which definitely helped. With the lack of rain over the last few weeks there were some areas where the water level was low which meant varying my stroke a bit but it didn’t affect my rhythm. I even think I felt a push down the river which I wasn’t expecting due to the lack of rainfall. The further I went down the less people that were around and I could see splashes in the distance that I couldn’t catch. When I finally saw the large white BTC buoy I thought I was almost done, but it seemed to never get closer. I found myself picking up the pace and slowing back down as I realised it wasn’t as close as you would think. I had a few people around me at this stage as we all tried to power for home. You could see the huge crowds gathering at the rowing club watching on and it was time to round the buoy and the last few strokes home, they seemed the hardest out of the lot. Out of the water and up the ramp and the reward – the biggest feed I’d seen anywhere. It was a like a large banquet.
Well done to everyone who took part, and to everyone who helped on the lead up and on the day. Everything ran smoothly on the day and with 200+ swimmers that took a lot of work. BTC should be extremely proud of the event they put on. I can’t wait to go back next year to what will no doubt be a bigger and better event.
Ashleigh Byrne: This time last year I had never swam in open water, I couldn’t fathom it. I did the BTC try-a-tri last august and huffed and puffed my way across to the bank, I don’t know how, it wasn’t swimming. I finally bit the bullet and joined BTC (Blackwater Triathlon Club), and began swimming lessons with the club in October. At this point I could just about swim 2 lengths, and not exactly gracefully. Through fantastic coaching by TriCoach Bjorn and later on, Nick, as well as our training camp in Killarney, I was ready for an Olympic with a 1.5km swim, and then another. I had the bug. A 3.5km swim still seemed way out for each but at the last minute, after a 2km trial one evening ,I went for it. I was worried about not making the cut off time and the shame of being hoisted out of the water, but, surprisingly, and despite an elbow in the face early doors, I really enjoyed the swim. Taking in the sights surrounding the Blackwater, I could have been anywhere in the world, and thankfully managed it in just under 1h 10 minutes. The weather was wonderful, as was the scenery as we took off from Michael Flatley’s. At points, the water was shallow enough to walk, but this was more difficult so everyone kept on swimming. I felt safe throughout, thanks to my wetsuit but also the presence of the kayaks. It was slightly difficult just as we approached the finish, where the water was deeper, and I kept veering right. But, I soon got back on track. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the finish line and the crowd of people; it didn’t feel like 3.5km at all. The atmosphere was wonderful, such great support and cheer. When I emerged I was wobbly and shaky, and in need of tea and cake! Overall, I’m delighted to have swum 3.5km, albeit downstream, when I could barely swim 10/11 months ago, and that’s thanks to BTC!
Thanks to the Anthony, Jonathan and Ashleigh for their contributions. The swim couldn’t go ahead without them and the hundreds of people who swam on the day or helped in organising the event. Hopefully we’ll see you all again next year.