Having participated in swimming, running and triathlon events over the last 4-5 years, I found that one quite naturally tends to be concerned with one’s own nervous anticipation and being organised to ensure a good personal performance on the day. I recently had, what can now be described as, the pleasure of helping to organise such an event and in doing so discovered that there is a whole other world going on behind the scenes which was certainly not always appreciated by me.
The Sean O’Sullivan memorial swim is now an annual event organised by the Shannon Masters swimming club. It is held to remember the man Sean O’Sullivan who was very influential in the swimming careers of many swimmers in the region. Shannon Masters also see this as an opportunity to hold an open water event in what is a spectacular location to accommodate the growing numbers of people who are participating in the sport.
Now in its third year, the Sean O’Sullivan swim had seen events run off at 1.5 and 3km distances in the past. In the early stages of organisation for this year, it was suggested that a new, longer distance be introduced as means to stimulate interest and also to possibly raise additional funds for charity. It was interesting and informative to speak to people who have experience in organising other long swims in the country, such as the 13km cross bay swim in Galway. The planning, logistics, safety and competitor medical considerations for longer swims are more arduous that for the shorter swims. In particular, a longer swim by its nature takes competitors farther away from the start/finish point and generally covers more territory than a shorter swim. There are only so many laps of a short course that a swimmer can tolerate.
With input from our own committee, the good folks at the ULAC as well as Mike Jones who we had worked with closely over the last number of years, we reckoned that we could accommodate a 5km course from the ULAC, using Goat Island as a turnaround point. This had advantages over other options in that it both started and finished at the ULAC and stayed relatively close to the shore where it was more easily monitored by our fleet of kayakers and boats. I believe the event was well received and we were delighted with the turnout of about 25 swimmers. In an event like this, the presence of the boats and kayakers was invaluable. They were able to not only keep an eye on the safety of the swimmers but also report back to shore on the progress of the swimmers. The experience of the ULAC staff meant they were almost instinctive in sharing the load of observing the three races but we were also able to coordinate with them over the radio.
Mick and Alison Rooney deserve a lot of praise for the efforts they have made over the years in organising and running, not only the SOS swim, but also the club in general. Their work in organising the swim in previous years, meant that there was a clear template as to how the event should be run and who could contribute to making everything happen. Aoife Fennell, Kristin Horan and Carmel Devine all volunteered to help early on in the process and took on roles in organising refreshments, registration and general logistics for the centre on race day. Special thanks also to Darragh Fahy for bringing along his wave runner and adding to our safety team on the water. STL of course was always available to advise and help. Lisa O’Neill, as always, raised her hand to help out with the starts and finishes on the day. From my own point of view, helping to organise an event such as this is made infinitely easier by the enthusiastic help that was given from anybody that offered or was asked.
In participating in an event, one knows whether the training has been done or not. It organising an event, there is always the concern that some element of what has been organised might go wrong or not happen on the day. For this swim, the many different parties who contributed to its success, all played their roles admirably. Our neighbouring masters club in Limerick were very happy to give us the use of their large yellow bouys. Even the farthest bouy, at the turnaround, was visible from shore which was reassuring that the swimmers wouldn’t miss them. Nenagh Red Cross were out on force on the day, it’s a service you never want to need but it puts the mind at rest when they are present. The Nenagh branch is specifically trained for water safety and when I spoke to Denise Kennedy from the service, I knew we were in good hands. Mary Elliot and her colleagues from Bunratty Search and Rescue were available to us on the day and though we didn’t use them, I am grateful for their advice. Even Ireland’s first Inland coast guard unit based out of Killaloe was keeping an eye out for us on the day and its reassuring that again, in the event that something should go wrong, we had someone to call on. The kayakers from UL showed up in great numbers on the day and had been in contact with us right throughout the build-up. They worked really well with the ULAC staff. Which brings me to the ULAC staff! Thanks to Andre and Matt for arranging this. Special thanks to Gordie and Ryan who helped to map out the courses both on the day and in the run up to the event. They showed great knowledge and even greater patience while we determined the best routes.
Even the weather and the condition of the lake, which was flat calm, probably couldn’t have been much better.
I referred earlier to the concern that some element of what has been organised, might go wrong. By and large I think that whatever we planned went pretty well. Of course there are also things that happen which, at least I, had not even imagined possible. While all our swimmers were still in the water, a tour boat approached and then encroached on the 1.5km/3km course. The guys from the ULAC center are well used to monitoring their charges in the water and watching out for water craft in the area. Their reaction was swift and decisive and they quickly made it clear that the craft needed to reverse out of the swimming lane immediately. Once the danger had been averted, they engaged with those on board and it was discovered that the one of the passengers, all of whom were on a stag weekend and who had been at the ULAC the previous day, had left his jacket in the changing room and wanted to retrieve it. It takes a stag weekend brain to conclude that navigating through the crowded water was a better option than driving the 5 minutes out the road from Killaloe to save the jacket. But there you are, these are the types of unknowns that can impact even the most meticulous planning.
At the end of the day, when all was packed up and we were ready to head home again, I had a buzz which was definitely similar to that when I’ve completed a race myself.