Jason Coniry last year gave thanks for surviving cancer by standing and paddling on a board for an arduous 13km from Monkstown to Cork as part of the Ocean to City Race.
Next Saturday, he’ll have a bit of company, as 14 rivals will vie to ensure he is not first across the finish line, balancing on what is a slightly larger version of a surfboard.
“I piloted the course on a stand-up paddle board last year and it was a great experience. That was the first attempt on a stand-up paddleboard (SUP).
“I had cancer two years ago and I was trying to get my life back. I had bumped into one of the organisers of Ocean to City and put the idea out there that I would like to give it a go.
“There were concerns about safety, but I have paddled to the Blaskets, on to the Fastnet lighthouse and then Cape Clear, 45km in a day, so I managed to convince them it was feasible,” said Mr Coniry, who is based in Clonakilty, Co Cork, and was once gently upended by a whale off the West Cork coast.
“I’m grateful to be alive every day. I’m 43 now and you don’t expect to be competing as in your 20s, but I am and I’m so delighted to be able to do the Ocean to City.
“I want to put distance between me and the cancer. I don’t want it to define me, but it changed my approach to life.
“Stand-up paddle boarding will offer a spectacle to the race. It will be a time trial from the start,” said Mr Coniry.
To say John and William are charting new waters would be an understatement.
Through Churchfield Community Trust (CCT) — which guides young men with trouble backgrounds to “make changes in attitudes, beliefs and behaviours” — and Ocean to City organisers Meitheal Mara, they are getting to experience something radically new.
John says CCT has helped to define his future and competing in the Ocean to City will be a landmark achievement for him. Expressive and eloquent, he is quick to tell his rivals he is “a born winner” as they pull up in Blackrock village after a training session.
“Churchfield Trust gave me a good structure and got me back into a stable environment. I made new friends, and it helped me to get sober. It was great to have a routine, good for my head and health. It taught me to be responsible.
“The team in Churchfield have been such a help to us and to have the opportunity to do Ocean to City is fantastic. I can’t wait to do it. It will be a great achievement for me,” said John, whose dream is to own a small boat.
William admits he found rowing difficult at the start, but is on the crest of a wave now and determined to give John something to think about on the day.
“I didn’t like it at the start. It took me a couple of weeks to get into it. The physical part was hard, but I so enjoy doing it now. It’s helping me both physically and mentally. It’s good in the mornings to have something to focus on and, as a group, we get on well together,” said William.
The race will feature at least 185 craft carrying over 550 participants, with teams from around Ireland, all over England, Wales, the Netherlands, France, and the US. There are over 30 different types of craft including Celtic longboats, 16-person dragon boats, kayaks. Currachs, too, are a staple of An Rás Mór as it’s called, with a crew from US making its first foray to Cork, according to Rose Magner, captain of local club Naomhóga Chorcaí.
“We have 60 rowers, including a guest crew from Albany, who are arriving in Cork on Tuesday. The team is made up of members from three currach clubs in the US and it is their first time competing in Cork,” said Rose.
Naomhóga Chorcaí has been at the helm of the event — along with Meitheal Mara — since its modest beginnings 12 years ago.
“We have been the host club, working with Meitheal Mara, since its inception. It is very much a volunteer-orientated event, with 300 people giving of their time for free, so it’s an incredible feat of organisation,” said Rose.
She said that, for some, the focus is all about being first across the line, while for others it is purely about the sense of achievement that comes with completing the race. “It’s a prestigious event and certain crews want to win and will go all out to do so, but there are crews who are just happy to cross the line. That is why we have a prize for novices, who are as deserving of recognition as the seasoned rowers. In both cases, it earns bragging rights for the year.”
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