I have a blog, I haven’t forgotten!

***I originally wrote this post on Christmas Eve last but, for a variety of reasons, I’ve had to delay making it public until now. I’m glad that it’s finally up here and open to everyone!***

I know, I know, it’s been an age since I last posted anything on this blog. Why have I not been writing? The honest answer is that I haven’t really had much to write about, and that I couldn’t really be bothered to write, quite frankly. So, what have I been up to? Plenty, but not a whole lot of swimming, to tell the truth…

Photograph – Adrian Healy

Racing the 1,500 m in UL back in March. I haven’t seen the inside of the building since – oops! (Image: Adrian Healy)

A few weeks after my last post way back in March, I found myself in a somewhat awkward situation and having to finally confront some personal issues that I had been choosing to ignore for far too long. The first of these was the pretty poor state of my mental health throughout most of my first two years at university, the causes of which were many and varied, but which need not be discussed here. Just what it was that brought that awful period to a close was what forced me to talk about it… To cut a long story short, I took comfort in the company of a friend, another boy, and gradually began to think of him as more than just a friend. After a year, I couldn’t bear to keep the secret anymore, and so I told him how I felt. This was a huge step for me as I had never told anyone – and I mean absolutely anyone – either about my mental health or that I was gay. Unfortunately, though not unexpectedly, this step didn’t go all that well. Knowing that this [as well as other complicating factors that revealed themselves in the following days and weeks] might trigger another, possibly worse bout of whatever it was that I had suffered before, I started talking. I was and am very lucky to have the most incredibly supportive friends and family, who helped me to process a good decade’s worth of emotional sh*t, for want of a better phrase, that I had built up in my head. I am beyond grateful for everything that they have done for me. So, thank you to everyone who has supported me!

But I did do *some* swimming!!!

As you might have seen in posts from earlier this year, I had gone back to training properly in the pool with my old club, Fermoy SC. That actually went quite well! Thanks to starting some light running and regular pool training, I lost a decent amount of weight and made a lot of gains in the pool, finally going under the minute in the 100 m freestyle and making good PBs in the 400 m and 1,500 m events too. I even managed to compete in the 400 m event at the Irish Age Group Championships & Summer Open in July, something which I’d given up on five years ago. I had an okay-ish season in the open water too, though I didn’t swim any major distance. I did go back to the Costa Brava though for my favourite event ever, the 6.5 km Marnaton “eDreams”  Cadaqués, where I had an “interesting” race that I might discuss in a later post… I’m sorry to say that there was little other news on the open water front – it would appear that weight loss and cold water tolerance don’t agree very well with one another!

Photograph – Edna English

On the podium again in Cadaqués. Not exactly in the position that I’d have liked but good to share it with meu amic, Albert Cortés Rovira. (Image: Edna English)

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The beautiful village of Cadaqués just after the swim – a truly stunning location! (Image: Owen O’Keefe)

Much to the disappointment of many, I did dip my toe into the world of triathlon this summer. Many dyed-in-the-wool open water swimmers would have me hanged, drawn and quartered for such a transgression! I must say that I’ve really enjoyed having a variety of sports in which to train. I always have and always will love swimming, so no need for an explanation there. I think that running is a very accessible sport (it’s inexpensive and there are so many opportunities for participation) and one which is very social too. Cycling I have found very enjoyable in a solitary way. Plus, I live in great cycling territory, something that my friend, Eoin McCarthy, will vouch for…

Side note: Many congratulations to Eoin on recently signing for the An Post-Chain Reaction Seán Kelly cycling team! Continued success to this incredible athlete…

As regards the sport of triathlon itself, I joined my local club, Blackwater Triathlon Club, this year and really enjoyed being part of the club, especially cycling the Ring of Beara, which was a fantastic experience. Once trained up a bit, I took part in two sprint distance triathlons: one in Carrick-on-Suir and one at home in Fermoy. The local event, which is now part of the Triathlon Ireland National Series, was amazing and I enjoyed it immensely. I wasn’t displeased with my performance either, I must admit. So, yeah, triathlon: it gets the thumbs up from me!

Photograph – Finbar O'Hanlon

Look, there I go………triathlon-ing! (Image: Finbar O’Hanlon)

Anyway, forgetting for *two seconds* about university, that’s pretty much what I’ve been up to since I last posted. While there are a lot of things that I’d rather forget about, 2014 has not in fact been the worst year ever and I can write now a happier and healthier person than ever before. Finally, a very happy Christmas [or whatever mid-winter festival you’re celebrating] and see you in the new year!

Go mbeirimíd beo ag an am so arís, and let’s hope that it’s not an am so arís before I write anything on here again…

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The Gift of Open Water

We often talk about the contribution that people have made to the life of open water swimming, but seldom about the contribution that open water swimming has made to the lives of people. Today, I think, is a good day for me to reflect on the contribution that open water swimming has made to my life.

Today is my 20th birthday. It’s also a dark, wet and windy day here in Cork – so in-keeping with the fallás truamhéalach that generally surrounds my birthdays (in reality, this has more to do with the time of year). How does this relate to swimming? Well, since I became a member of Fermoy Swimming Club, as a nine-year-old, I have made many great friends. Many of these were/are much better swimmers than myself. However, once we finished school, swimming ceased to be part of life for a lot of them. Why? That’s just how it worked: you swam with the Club until you finished school and if you didn’t have a swimming “career” by then you had no more business in swimming…

I was lucky, though. I was very fortunate to have a grandfather, Tom Baker, who was – and still is – very enthusiastic about swimming. Though never having swum very seriously himself, he is well known in Fermoy for his long-standing summer ritual of swimming in the River Blackwater twice a day, Monday to Saturday, and in the sea at Ballycotton on a Sunday. In 2006, his friend, Leo Bartley, another regular Blackwater swimmer, asked me if I would like to do the “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim in Cork City. After some cajoling, I eventually decided that I would give it a try.

A friend of mine from Fermoy SC, Bryan Dillon, agreed to join me for that first Lee Swim. Before we could register for the event, we had to go to Sandycove to prove that we could swim. There we met the great Ned Denison and had a great swim around Sandycove. After doing the Lee Swim, I was completely hooked on open water swimming and had a great time swimming through the best Irish summer in recent years. Swimming was the only sport that I was good at and open water was the only thing that I [relatively speaking] excelled at. My six and a half years open water swimming has been of incalculable benefit to me and I genuinely cannot imagine life without this sport and the people in it.

Because open water has given me so much, I have always tried to make other young swimmers aware of it’s existence. There are many talented young swimmers, who find that racing in the pool is not for them, whose lives could be greatly enhanced by finding their niche in the open water. I was one of those swimmers (okay, maybe not so much the talented bit) and it pains me to think that a few swimmers are being actively discouraged from exploring this avenue of swimming, but that is a whole other post! For today, I’m just thankful for having this sport in my life.

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Ag machnamh seal liom féinig… | Reflecting for a while…

The above photograph (that’s me sitting on the big rock) was taken by my father, George O’Keefe, at Trá na Binne Báine (Beenbane Strand) near Dingle, Co. Kerry in June 2006, just one month before my first open water event. I think it encapsulates the theme of today’s post very well and it’s an image that I often come back to. On very good advice from Donal Buckley, it’s to the boy in that photograph that I write posts like this one.