Interview: ‘It’s funny how things turn out’, Carmel Collins, endurance swimmer

Endurance swimmer Carmel Collins talks to us ahead of today’s International Ice Mile Swim in Lough Dan, Wicklow. Interview by Colm O’Connor.

Interview: ‘It’s funny how things turn out’, Carmel Collins, endurance swimmer

Q: Were you a natural swimmer?

A: “I always loved the water and took swimming lessons when I was in school. But I nearly drowned twice as a child.

Once I was with my dad and brother who were fishing near Blackrock Castle.

"I was alongside them trying to catch crabs and toppled into the water.

My Dad saved me that day and had to come to my rescue a few years later on holidays in Spain. My brothers were in the big pool and I was in the smaller, shallower one.

"Of course I wanted to show the boys that I could hold my own with them and jumped in. I was going under and remember calling out. Thankfully dad heard me and saved the day again.”

Q: Is it true you had a fear of open water?

A: “I did. I had a fright when I was a teenager down in Owenahincha in West Cork.

"A wave pulled me out of my depth and a friend along with a lifeguard had to help me out. It was years before I worked up the courage to return to swimming.”

Q: What advice would you give to people trying to conquer their fears?

A: “I avoided the water for years as a teenager and only took it up again when my daughter was born.

I just needed to get fit and lose weight. And I knew that swimming was the best way to achieve that goal. I was very nervous but I knew the positives.

The first few times were messy — I was swimming with my head out of the water, my breathing was wrong, my strokes were all over the place. But I kept at it.

I watched the serious swimmers and one day just asked someone for advice and it went from there. I got better and better. I could feel the benefits and see the benefits. It’s funny how things turn out.

One of the people working there told me I was a natural and should go and train to be lifeguard and swimming instructor.

And that is what I am today, working at the Mayfield Sports Complex at something I love.

The advice for anyone with a fear of water is to get lessons from someone you are confident with.

Be persistent and you will ge amazed what can be achieved.”

Q: Do you still get nervous?

A: “No, but the first time I went swimming in the sea after the incident in Owenahincha I got a major fright.

I was training for the Lee Swim in 2005 and was doing a lap of Sandycove Island outside Kinsale as part of the preparation.

When I jumped in I couldn’t get my breath. I was in a bad way for about 10 minutes. There was an swimmer alongside me and she was seriously worried.

I managed to get round, but was swimming on my front and on my back and was extremely disorientated. Amazingly I was fine afterwards and never had a problem since.”

Q: What is the sensation like when you touch cold water?

A: “People always ask me that! It must be an Irish thing about dealing with the cold. You get immune to it.

The first thing I do is get the head down and then do 10 strokes. Once I have 10 strokes done, I’m fine, the worst is over. I love being in the water.

I used to be afraid of seeing things like fish or seaweed but now I’m nearly disappointed if I don’t see something. I am always looking for them.”

Q: What is the most amazing thing you have seen?

A: “I had an incredible experience swimming with dolphins in Myrtlveille in 2012. I was with my swimming buddy Jen when we saw a fin in the water...

Thankfully it wasn’t a shark but some friendly dolphins who came over to have a little snoop around. They were so beautiful and friendly.

We stopped a few times and they were happy to swim around us and under us; it seemed that they wanted someone to play with them.

It is hard to believe that seven years earlier I was terrified at the thought of regular fish, jellyfish and seaweed in the water.”

Q: What is going through your mind in a long swim?

A: “Everything and anything! You are thinking about loads of personnel things, about the training, about your goals, ambitions, what is going on in work, in life.

You name it, I’ve probably thought about it.”

Q: Is it a very lonely sport?

A: “It can be especially in the big events. When you are training in the pool, you are there for hours and hours with people getting in and out, in and out.

When you are in the long haul competitions there is a boat alongside you but you are still out there on your own. It is just you and the sea.

You are thinking about all the time you are putting in and how it is impacting on your family. But when you think about what you are trying to achieve, it all seems worthwhile.”

Q: You attempted the English Channel Swim?

A: “Sadly, it was unsuccessful. Everything went against me in the weeks leading up to the attempt.

An arm injury I picked up in training flared up and I was in agony. Then the mental energy required to try and block out that pain began to take its toll.

In the end I could barely lift my arm out of the water and if that wasn’t bad enough the tide started to turn as well. It was simply not meant to be. I lost my passion for the sea for awhile.

The sea was my enemy, it was like I was angry with the sea. Even though I did not touch land I now look back on it as a personal best 13 hours.”

Q: I read on your blog that you had an innovative way of training for cold water swims?

A: “I filled up my bath with cold water and then added six bags of ice. My daughter had great fun throwing it over me.

I started the stopwatch and just lay there. The plan was to do 10 minutes but I kept pushing myself. Because I wasn’t moving I wasn’t generating heat. I got to 18 minutes and 40 seconds.”

Q: What is the International Ice Mile Swim like?

A: “I did it once, in 2012. It was frozen over with ice at the edge with the temperature around 3 or 4 degrees.

I had swum 400m in London in 3 degrees but this was a much bigger challenge, covering 4 times that distance.

“About halfway through I felt tingles in my fingers and soon after I got numbness in my tongue — thankfully that did not last too long! When I finished both my hands were locked in position like frozen claws.

And yes I was in pain. I went up to have a shower and but it was a little too hot so I just went in and out for a few minutes until I was able to speak and dress myself.

My feet were blue and purple in some parts where the blood was rushing to the core. I still felt tingles in my fingers until later that evening!”

More in this section

Puzzles logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day.


Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up