Monday, January 7, 2013

Does it matter if we never met?? we're together now..

"Life is filled with certain obligations and responsibilities, but none more basic, primal or important than the responsibilities that we have to ourselves and each other"  

There are moments on every swim that define the trip, an image, something that we see that seeps deep into who we are as people, as swimmers-and despite the fact we've never met-it doesn't matter..we are all there for the same journey.

The defining moments of team walking
 at -30 deg
Anne Marie, Noel and I have been on so many expeditions together, so many swims that would raise the hairs on the back of your neck, but that's another day. Padraig would fall in nicely. The sea has so many challenges in it's movement, in his energy. Going into a block of Ice, still silent water scares me. I have no connection with fresh water. The swim held no fear, tomorrow did, the cost of the swim did. I knew once our feet came out of the ice that Noel would have a mat under them, that we would be herded to the heat. If both Anne Marie and I were in reheating who would be there for Padraig? We wanted it to be that we would be there for each other. Anne Marie and I would be a trade off but we would both be there for Padraig.

One of the memories from Tyumen Siberia for me the togetherness that jumped into action, sitting on a sofa anxious when in walks Aleksandr and Mariia smiling after a fantastic swim at night in the Ice Hole?? We were shocked but all of a sudden it was possible. Being there for the South African 1,000m club, being there to witness Henri swim 1,650m at -33 deg air. We hold people in different spaces, I had never met Kieron and Ryan, Ram we had swum with in Donegal. He knew how we worked, how Noel was the minder. We would share little in our swimming backgrounds but there was a streak of madness, that is what makes us tick, a sense of belief, a casual acceptance, something that makes you want into their company.Everywhere we looked there was possibility but respect.
The decision to take on the 1 km at 0 Deg for the Ram, Kieron and Ryan looked a lot more troubling than it was for us, who they are as swimmers carried weight of expectation.

"We didn't travel this distance not to try it" was a sentence Ram had said, it was said in a tone of camaraderie and reassurance as if they themselves were building to a decision.
me 14 miles off the south coast of Ireland where the water
was huge, but there is honesty out here.. . 
I'm sure a lot of swimmers looked at the 25m hole in the ice, calm, peaceful and without variables why would it offer such hostility? I can hear their voices, it's only cold, suck it up. why would it create nervousness? It's as clinical an experiment as can be. Nothing new can be added to the mix, no currents, winds or visibility issues, no tidal flows, yet this still serene water created a nervousness in the air.

The hours leading up to the swim were not ideal for any of us, the indecision of distance can take so much energy, the absurd cold penetrating our feet standing for 3 hrs at -30deg, the pain in our fingers as we walked about seeking answers and then the bloody medical clearence.. damn the body and the late nights!! all self inflicted might I add..That's completely true...Words from Aleksandr saying "Go to the pleasure but not to the pain.. " It made sense- Christian Vergera chatted as if we were long lost buddies but we emailed once. The Russian ladies gave out a warm liquid, language being an impossibility we just threw it down not even questioning.

Chatting with Kieron and Ryan, there were silences, an understanding that not every swim is finished when you get out of the water, without the knowledge of the reheating, there was a blank..a nervousness that we were not in control off. They all took off walking the route to the hut, managing the risks that exist, and visualising the journey.
Andrew Chin in the
angry Straits of Magellan
This time last year these two with Ram, Andrew and Tok were hurling their bodies off a ship, deep water into the freezing temperatures of the Drake Passage, off Cape Horn in SA, freezing waters so hostile and so volatile as to cause concern to Sailors, but they had their team.

Before Ram traveled to Ireland last year to swim with us, I remember a quote that I had read and stayed with me about their adventure to the tip of Cape Horn. ..

It said "The team has accumulated enough confidence to take on this challenge and this is the time.. "  says it all..
Ram, Kieron and Ryan between them would eclipse a moon with their experience and their sense of adventure but not for a second, was there a sense of entitlement about today.

Ram dived into the 0 deg water to start his km. Both Ryan and Kieron, arms folded under their armpits for protection, faces tucked deep into their chests as they walked the 40 lengths up and maintained eye contact with Ram, Neither dressed in clothes that would suffice -30 deg air temps, walking on ice. Really they should have been protecting their cores for their own swims.
Padraig and Noel with Anne Marie
With the km achieved they reached in and grabbed their boy, one on either side of Ram and ran with him to the sauna. Back to the heat where they reached back inside themselves to re energise for their km.
The fog was dropping as the daylight left us, the air around the pools thickened and breathing became a challenge. Anne Marie and I had completed our little jaunt, 30 minutes of recovery, Jackie was out of the sauna and back poolside with Noel. Padraig was next off the hop, nerves filled the air as he dived into the water. 150m completed, Padraig switched to breast stroke, his goggles fogged and froze over. Already with compromised vision he had little choice but to lift them up. He powered fast and strong but his eyes exposed to the ice, as his lashes froze, with water crystallising on his beard.
Ice on Padraig as he exited.. 
 Happy to make the call at the 300m mark, you could see the wheels of industry turning. There was absolutely no losers today. despite having all their own swims faces were there to ensure we all got out. The air was now dropped to -33 degrees, in seconds he was lifted and directed to the saunas, many hands making light work.

The defining moment of the entire weekend came for me when Kieron and Ryan stood on the deck.. Ryan asked me to count the laps, but as the boys took their positions I was on the wrong side. Alekis took Ryan. Kieron was on my side. Both bodies launched through the air with immense power.
And they're off.. 
 Arms pushed hard to glide and each time eyes connected, it was rhythmic, synchronicity no man being left behind. I picked up Ryan's pupils, it's so strange despite the fog, the spray and the darkness how a pair of eyes can connect.
After 800m nothing changed.. arm for arm.. 
There was silence, normally when two young fit guys go off against each others in a race, you'd expect there to be some testosterone fueled competition talk.. Today there was Nothing.. People were pushing the swim-just signals, signs and respect, it was about the all achieving what they set out to achieve. I really wanted to put my gloves back on but what if Kieron wouldn't see my fingers. I found it hard to connect with his eyes, but it didn't matter, I kept counting and giving my signals. The visual was intense, watching two bodies with such wonderful umbilical support running between them, they were swimming off each other. The moment as they turned to face their final 50m, the power increased in their strokes, there was no circulatory distress though it was hard to see in their tanned bodies but there didn't appear, their hands as flexed and as fluid as they started. Their fears banished and the moment they touched Ram was on top of them. The group split, feet in shoes, as I put the towel around Kieron, Ram shouted at the two boys..
There was no high fives, there was no elation it was straight to phase two, get them out of here.

"Just let the women in the sauna do their job, they are brilliant and they will know what to do to reheat. Do what you're told" it was the solid statement of do what you're told. Off we all ran.. really we all ran to the sauna-there was a crowd running but then we had to run back as down at the other pool Henri Karma was speeding through the 1,650m, at this stage of the evening the fog had dropped. The water was covered  in darkness. Cameras froze and taking hands out of our gloves caused anxiety.But he pushed and pushed at speed that I had never witnessed. Lengths shouted by Alexsandr. Despite everything every swimmer was there for each other, going through each others journey
Mariia in her Raindeer boots and Cristian R

Maybe it's because of the journeys that we have had that we see ourselves in each other, memories that we are defined by, the experiences colour our expectations and in the face of indecision or uncertainty the only thing that matters is being there. The fact that everyone is safe is the priority. That primal obligation of looking after each other.. Medals are so inexpensive but one thing for certain, we had never met three days ago but goals were the same -Survival and Adventure and Staying alive. 


  1. I love you all and your inspiration. It's my dream to swim with all of you one day.

  2. So cool to see these comments! Well done to everyone involved with the ice swimming! I am a South African living in Ireland and know Ryan and his family, so it is even more fantastic to see you sing his and his team's praises!


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