from women in sport Lisa Cummins tells us all her amazing story of swimming over and back across the English Channel. “I completed the Cork City Marathon in 2007 and was looking around for the next challenge. After reading an autobiography by a famous open-water swimmer called “Swimming to Antarctica” – the challenge became the English Channel.
I got some advice from local open-water swimmers – as luck would have it, I was surrounded in Cork by five Channel swimmers and three in training for 2008.
I booked my boat in December of 2007, nearly two years ahead of the swim.
I had never been a competitive swimmer, so I wasn’t sure exactly how to go about training for the swim.
However, I’ve been swimming for as long as I can remember and have been teaching both children and adults for over 10 years.
So I knew that I could swim relatively well, I just needed to be able to swim relatively well for a much longer length of time in the cold sea!
At the stage I was swimming two or three times a week in the pool – so a very ‘normal’ amount of training. However, this soon changed…
In March of 2008 I went to the sea for the first time. I lasted 6 minutes and was absolutely frozen!
I had a long way to go. I spent the summer of 2008 increasing my time and distances in the sea and did all the long local swims to get used to swimming in different places and different conditions.
Then in September of 2008 I talked to Eilís Burns about my training.
Eilís had trained the eight Cork soloists for their crossings and I was hoping that she could give me some advice on how I should be training for the year leading up to my swim.
Luckily for me she agreed to take me on and drew up a program for my training.
After a couple of months we had a conversation about my swimming goals and plans for the next few years.
I had been mulling over the idea of a two-way English Channel swim (so 42 miles as the crow flies versus 21 miles for a single crossing).
No Irish swimmer had completed it and no woman anywhere had ever attempted it without having first completed a solo.
I was thinking about it for next year or the year after (2010/2011).
I was very excited when Eilís suggested that I go for it in 2009 and jumped at the idea!
I kept my new plan quiet for a long time because I wasn’t sure what people’s reaction would be and I didn’t want anyone to put me off it before I had built up my training and my confidence.
I combined winter pool training with weekends in the sea (at a low temperature of 7 degrees C) and completed a mandatory 6 hour qualification swim in Malta in April 2009.
News of my plan for the double was slowly seeping out. My local swimming partners were very supportive but many of the global superstars of marathon swimming expressed concerns at taking on this big goal with very little open water experience.
At this stage, however, I was confident that I was training as hard as I could for the swim and was prepared to give it my best shot.
In June I left the pool and began sea-swimming six days a week. Throughout the summer I swam from 4 to 14 hours daily, conditioning my brain to accept long days and nights in the water.
By the time the end of August came I was more than happy to be cutting back the training and resting my body!
All three of the Cork based English Channel aspirants arrived in Dover at the same time – but poor weather had us looking out over the cliffs at the neap tide as our designated 6 day slot passed.
We all decided to stay on and hoped to get an opportunity to swim on the more difficult spring tide.
For a while it looked like the two years of training were to be for naught – we looked to miss a 2009 attempt.
It was a hard time mentally but we were lucky to have each other and our Cork supporters and crew around to keep us positive.
Finally I was on the boat and headed out of Dover to the starting place on the Saturday morning.
Five Cork friends were on the deserted beach to see me off. F
rom the minute I stood on the beach, my nerves were gone. I was ready to have a go!
The first few hours of my swim went really well, I think that I was just really happy to be getting a chance to swim at all at that stage!
After about 4 hours I had some mental ‘demons’ to fight – my mind was trying to tell me that I wasn’t going to make it and that I had set myself too big a challenge.
After about an hour I managed to convince myself that since I had done 14 hours in training, I would swim until I got to that point and then decide what was next.
I think that was just something that I needed to go through – once I fought the demons I never had them again for the rest of the swim.
I landed in France in darkness at around 1 am. I had a few minutes on the beach to apply some additional grease to stop chafing and grab a souvenir rock and I was headed back.
I tried not to celebrate as mentally I convinced myself that it was only job half done.
I swam into the dawn, all day and then back in to the darkness.
My second night of swimming had begun! The strong spring tides took me through a series of big S curves and eventually I landed at the nuclear station at Dungeness.
My sister Sarah and support swimmer Imelda Lynch swam in with me and made sure that I got back out to the boat (I was very tempted to fall asleep on the beach at that stage!)and a hug from my mother Margaret.
We made our way back to Dover harbour, where we handed the boat over to 16 year old Owen from Fermoy and waited for news of Sylvain who had stated 12 hours earlier.
My shoulder required some hospital care but news that the other Cork swimmers were successful and a great welcome back in Cork got me on the road to recovery.
My swim has been very well received and the next double channel aspirant from Ireland has already declared for 2011 – so it has inspired others.
As for the future, for now I need to finish my PhD – I think I’ve spent enough time avoiding it this past year!
I think that my body needs a break anyway from what I put it through.
But I’m definitely not done with swimming – I’m currently looking at a list of possible future challenges…and a triple crossing is up at the top of that list!