Bridie Power, from Burnfoot, has become one of an exclusive group who can say they’ve swam the English Channel.
While some do so for the challenge, other for the glory, Bridie joined seven other deaf women aged between 22 and 54 to raise money and awareness of the Irish Deaf Women’s Group.
Calling themselves the Irish Deaf Channel Swimmers, this intrepid team of seven came together just 18 months ago to train for what has been deemed the ‘Everest’ of swimming.
Last week, they succeeded in completing it, swimming the 33 kilometres from Dover to Calais in 14 hours.
They faced setbacks and false starts along the way, but were buoyed by the “phenomenal support” from home and away.
In her interview with the ‘Journal’, Bridie, who now lives in Wicklow, told how a pre-swim in her home county had prepared her for the waters of the Channel.
She also disclosed how she became involved after one of her team mates, Bernadette White, was inspired by her late father.
Bernadette’s father had always spoken about the English Channel swim and she decided to complete it in his memory, while also raising funds for charity. Bernadette sought out six other women who previously swam competitively in deaf swimming championships.
Along with Bridie, who had competed in competitions at school and regularly swam in the sea as a “hobby,” Bernadette also recruited Lisa Finn Carroll, Nora Duggan, Dee Byrne, Patricia Heffernan and Michelle Mc Laughlin.
Two of the swimmers, one of whom was Bridie,(nee Coyle), had competed non-internationally, while five were international competititors.
When the team signed up for the challenge, they also got involved with local swimming clubs.They trained with each other and the clubs for the last 18 months, as well as a “tough but brilliant coach” over the last month.
They were well prepared when they travelled to Dover on June 29th, with a provisional swim date for July 3rd. But, the inclement weather almost scuppered their chances.
They were forced to postpone, leaving the team “disheartened.”
“A lot of supporters had taken the week off work,” said Bridie.
“They had to go back home. The swim was supposed to go ahead on the Thursday and was postponed to Friday. Then we got a call to say it was postponed to Monday or Tuesday. We got very low, as you have to book your provisional date and you get three days leeway. On the Sunday, we went for lunch with some of the supporters who were going home and we got a text, which we thought was going to be bad news. It suggested a replacement team getting in ahead of us, but we said we wanted our spot and next thing, we got a text to say:’See you in the morning.’ We were ecstactic. Everyone was jumping up
and down, hugging each other.”
The swim was undertaken by the seven women in relays, with Bridie swimming fourth in the group,
Despite the challenge that awaited her, Bridie felt “confident” getting into the water.
This was in no small part due to the fact she had undertake a seven-hour pre-run swim in Donegal at the end of May, accompanied by a pilot boat.
When Bridie got into the English Channel, she found the water was very similar which “settled the nerves.”
Unsurprisingly to anyone who has taken a dip in the Donegal sea in the early part of the year, the Channel water was warmer, at 18 degrees compared to Donegal’s 10.
Bridie disclosed how she found the first hour, in the English sea, “tough” due to the height of the waves, which were “very difficult to see over.”
“I had to stretch over them and got very tired and cold. but, as the second hour, which was in the French sea, kicked in, I really started to enjoy it and take it all in,” she said.
Each team member gave the other strong support and they were aided by the pilot boat.
For one lady, Lisa, the swim was tougher than the rest, as she unwittingly swam for an hour in a current, not moving forward.
But, the final result was all worth it and each member was “ecstatic” when they completed the swim as a team.
For safety reasons, not every women could get off the boat to touch the wall at Calais - the marking point for completion.
But, not to be deterred, the ladies who did so decided they’d let the others join in - by bringing back some stones from the land.
“They brought them back in their swimsuits,” told Bridie.
“It was very funny seeing them all with these heavy suits, full of stones! Everyone was screaming with excitement, we were very, very happy. “
Bridie and her team mates completed the swim in 14 hours.
“14 hours, seven women, on 7th July, 2014,” pointed out Bridie.
She said the team were tired but elated as they headed back to Dover, to be met at 12 midnight by a group of whooping, enthusiastic supporters, popping champagne.
“We couldn’t have done it without our supporters,” said Bridie.
“They really kept our spirits up when we were low and it looked like it wasn’t going to happen.
Some of Bridie’s most prominent supporters were her own family, who were able to chart her progress via Facebook.
“Facebook was going mad while we were over there,” said Bridie.
“There are hundreds of messages.”
She paid tribute to her “Burnfoot crew,” particularly her sister Helen, who organised a fundraiser on the day of swim, which raised a “fantastic” €600.
There were also a large group of supporters awaiting them when they arrived at Dublin Port, many of whom are still fundraising.
Money is still pouring in for the charity, which is
very important to each women.
The Irish Deaf Women’s Charity seeks to empower women, break down barriers and provide support.
Bridie and her teammates have seen the benefit of the non-government charity at first hand and sought to raise as much money as possible for it.
With this in mind, they all funded their own trip, as well as a pilot boat at €2,600.
Donations are still being taken online at https://www.idonate.ie/mobile/fundraiser/11157_irish-deaf-channel-swimmers-2014-fundraising-page.html.
While Bridie’s feet are now firmly on solid ground back in Wicklow, she jokes she’s still on cloud nine.
She added she would also recommend the challenge to others.
“It was definitely fantastic. The training paid off. I would recommend it,” she said.