Ireland’s first ever ICE SWIM attempt

Updated: December 29, 2011

“Initially the body goes numb as the muscles scream that they don’t want to be there, the body does not have the ability replenish the cold, therefore it is an extreme test of endurance as the body freezes”

A year ago , Donegal open water swimmer, Anne Marie Ward, was virtually unknown outside Ireland. Sure she had been a member of the “Round Ireland Swim” team in 2006 but outside of the Open Water Swimming fraternity hers was not a household name. How times have changed! Much to her surprise and delight, as SportsNewsIreland reported on New Year’s Day 2011 , Anne Marie was voted World Open water Swimmer of the Year by the prestigious World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA) .

What to do for an ‘encore’ come the last day of 2011? Quietly celebrate at home , watch TV or spend a few hours ‘ Surfing the Internet’? Not likely !

So on New Year’s Eve, Anne Marie and long time friend Nuala Moore will attempt the first ever ” ICE SWIM” in Irish waters. Donegal to be exact – December 30th/31st completing a mile/ 1.6km swim in water 5 deg and under. Grhhh!

So who are these ‘brave warriors’ ? What are are their backgrounds – and their achievements?
Anne Marie Ward ,from Creeslagh in Donegal is West Regional Manager of the H.S.E’s Cross Border programme to promote equal opportunities for people with disabilities, a job which takes her all over Ireland while Nuala Moore

lives and works in the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry. Both have an extensive open water swimming history, in its purest form.

2006: Anne Marie and Nuala were the only two females in the team of eight swimmers who completed the Round Ireland swim relay, 830 mile circumnavigation around Ireland, the longest, marathon staged relay in the world.

Over 56 days and 35 swim days the team of swimmers swam around the entire coastline of Ireland – it was the first time that a swim of this magnitude was completed in swim togs-with such extreme water temperatures.

2007 : Anne Marie Ward swam the English Channel swim resulted in her receiving the Pierre van Varan Award for the best swim in arduous conditions as she finished the swim in a force 5/6 wind.

2008 :in an attempt to be the first Irish woman – and the 9th swimmer in history – Anne Marie spent 17.5hrs swimming from Ireland to Scotland – though she was unsuccessful in reaching Scotland at 17.5hrs in 12 deg water it was the longest immersion by any swimmer in the North Channel water.

2008: Nuala joined a team of 4 other swimmers and in Aug the five ‘Siorcanna na Mumhain’ swam from England to France and back to England- in a new Irish Record time of 25hrs 15mins.

2009: Anne Marie once again tried to cross the North Channel-but after 2.5hrs she was swept inside the Copeland Islands and was rescued after a few minutes on her own, in the dark, as her pilot boat lost visual.

2010 : Anne Marie tried again, though it was not possible to find a space void of Jellyfish , her crew just dropped her in with the hope that the Lion’s Mane jellyfish would clear. They didn’t and for 5 hrs in the dark she swam, with over 200 stings and her body swollen and joints starting to seize up.

In the pitch dark of night she asked to be taken out where she was brought straight to Belfast Hospital A & E which was in itself ‘ hilarious’ (her word not mine) – at 5am in an emergency ward – being admitted as a health service manager, unable to speak from a swollen tongue whilst trying to convince the staff she was swimming to Scotland !

Four weeks later Anne Marie went back and after 18hrs 59mins became the 11th swimmer in history – and the 1st Irish woman- she has also the longest immersion by any swimmer in 12 deg water-in the North Channel

Nov 1st Anne Marie was selected from a world wide group of swimmers and shortlisted as the World open water swimming woman of the year-after a 2 month online poll she was honoured with the title and with 47% convincingly won this prestigious title , from her peers.

In August this year, Nuala completed the Lake Zurich Marathon swim-25.4km-fresh water is a huge challenge without a wetsuit and with difficult conditions the swim took 12hrs, finishing 2/6 in her category.

Since her involvement in the original ‘Round Ireland’ swim , Nuala has set up and organised open water swimming events , many in Kerry . She told me : “I felt that we had gained so much experience and felt that it was important to help other swimmers get away from the shoreline”.

Her swims vary from 2km to 6km and offer great challenge in doing good open bay crossings in the SW of Ireland. So how did this latest “Ice Swim Challenge” come about?

“While we were over in New York , we listened to the presentation of the Ice Swimming association on ‘swimming and pushing your body through a mile in conditions under 5 degrees’ – our own water has very low temperatures and though we swim through the year we still felt that a mile was manageable so we committed to the distance once we came home.

We think it is important to push limits ; our own swimming history is very much driven by pushing limits- we would also like to believe that in having the adequate body fat levels that this will help us in the heat loss.”

Where in Donegal will this swim take place?

Nuala Moore again : “Our locations will be preferably the sea -so Port Na Blath at Dunfanaghy under the amazing Bloody Foreland and also Mulroy Bay and Wood Quarter which also has fresh water running in this has lower temperatures so it is all dependant on where we can get the water temperatures under the 5deg.

We also have a plan for fresh water if we need to get the temps lower”.

Initially the body goes numb as the muscles scream that they don’t want to be there, the body does not have the ability replenish the cold, therefore it is an extreme test of endurance as the body freezes

“Swimming in water lower than 5 deg is not without risk – the challenges are both physical and emotional so we are taking on this challenge under the standards and guidelines of the International Ice Swimming Association”.

“Taking on a mile in cold water in general is challenging but moving under 5 deg brings in itself other challenges and not something that anyone should attempt without assistance.

“Swims are in Antarctica, Lake Zurich, Norway, Idaho and Greenland- and now add Donegal to the list. Anne Marie and I will be the first Europeans and Irish who will complete it…. Hopefully!!”

In an effort to maintain standards and manage risk in such cold water Ram Barkai from South Africa set up -and promotes – through the International ice swimming organisation – a control measure for swimmers undertaking the 1.6km swim. Ram Barkai has travelled to Donegal from SA to sanction and oversee the swim.

All possible precautions are taken to protect those taking part in such swims with medicals and rescue services immediately available should the need arise.

The challenges are the initial tightening of the muscles including those around the heart, the heart rate slows down and with the shortness of breathing, there comes mental confusion. The swimmers risk anxiety and possible blackout and the coldness of the muscles sending you to sleep, numbness and inability of moving limbs and finally the sensitivity of the teeth!!!

Doctors need to be on shore and there needs to be quite a huge emphasis on health and the body temp after drop once swimmers exit the water. The full distance of the swim must be visible from the shore – That’s the crucial point.

“Training is mainly based on recovery, as getting in, is always going to hurt- it’s all about what happens when we get out”, Nuala Moore told SportsNewsIreland.

“Last week I trained up the Conor Pass ( Dingle) in Peddlers Lake and it was 6.4deg- walking in was acceptable but once I took a few strokes the breathing became very laboured-I found it very difficult to gather myself and after a few strokes of breaststroke I was fine when I put my face back in the water.

Being up the mountain and in the back of the (Conor) Pass the air and rocks were freezing so the air temps on the day will really affect us.”

This the most recent Ice Swim in July in South Africa – it provides an insight into the physical ramifications of the Immersion, – have a look as you will see the bodies respond to the cold after.

SportsNewsIreland will bring you up to date on their progress and reveal the next challenge for Nuala and Anne Marie – in 2012. A much tougher and more challenging one than even the Bloody Foreland.

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