From freediving to fundraising - How a Mullingar man in Egypt plans to support Pieta House

From freediving to fundraising - How a Mullingar man in Egypt plans to support Pieta House

Dave McGowan on a hike near Dahab, South Sinai. This week he plans to walk for 24 hours and hopes to cover a distance of 100km.

If reading about Westmeath-born record-holding freedivers who plan on walking 100km for charity is your thing then you have come to the right corner of the internet.

Dave McGowan ticks all those boxes. The Mullingar native shot to prominence in the sport at the AIDA Freediving World Depth Competition last September at Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt where he plunged to a depth of 71 metres and wrote himself in Irish history books in other disciplines.

McGowan remained in Egypt basing himself near Dahab, South Sinai which is considered one of the best diving spots in the world and has spent much of the time since then training towards next year’s world championship.

Coronavirus has been a double-edged sword here: the onset of the virus has halted the students (and the revenue they generate) who come here each year to learn the art of freediving but the remoteness of this location means they have escaped the worst of the pandemic with fewer restrictions in place along its Red Sea coastline.

McGowan though has been keeping up with the news from home and the struggles that lockdown has presented. It set him thinking of another project and how he could help others.

He explained: “A few years ago I started this thing of undertaking a challenge on my birthday. I was coming back out of a bad relationship and wanted something which would keep me busy on that day and not be reflecting on what had happened in the past.

“Since then I’ve done long cycles and runs but this year I decided that I would set myself the challenge of walking continuously for 24 hours and try to raise money for Pieta House.” 

McGowan has dived to a depth of 71metres.  At that depth the pressure experienced by the body is 8 bar (or 116psi), this is equivalent to the inflation pressure of a truck tyre.
McGowan has dived to a depth of 71metres.  At that depth the pressure experienced by the body is 8 bar (or 116psi), this is equivalent to the inflation pressure of a truck tyre.

McGowan, like many, had first heard of Pieta House via their annual Darkness into Light event. It struck a chord immediately.

“What really stayed with me about it was that it combined community spirit and outdoor activity. Given everything that is going on in the world, and back home in Ireland at the moment, I just felt it would be the perfect charity to support. 

“Mental health charities like Pieta House are now more important than ever with complex issues arising from the covid crisis. Isolation, social distancing, altered pathways to access care, PTSD within frontline staff, and complex issues with grief surrounding bereavement mean that we need to make sure essential services like these remain accessible to those who need them.” 

So McGowan set up planning his challenge - and has added an Irish element to it.

“I’ve set up my own 5km loop here to show a bit of solidarity with everyone back home.

“So I’m going to walk these loops for 24 hours straight and hopefully make my target of 100km. I have a few people here who are keen to help out, even if it is just walking along with me for a few kilometres. 

"Other friends are helping out in terms of logistics, water and food. A few pals are physios and will be on standby if needs be but hopefully they wouldn’t be required.” 

After all that it will be back to his second home - the warm and deep waters where he spends hours each day. 

McGowan took up freediving as a means to train for his other passion of spearfishing in 2014, he began taking his training seriously in 2015 and in 2016 he smashed the previous Irish static breath-hold record of 5 minutes and 35 seconds with a breath-hold of almost 6 minutes. Four years later, that 5:59 Irish record still stands.

“It has been a bit of blessing to be where I am. I am in the middle of nowhere about 100km from a big city. 

"This is mostly desert and we have had no cases and no restrictions. We just have been carrying on training. We hope to have competitions again but it is impossible to say when that will be. There are more records that I want to break and deeper depths I want to go to.” 

Dave’s walk begins on Thursday night midnight (Egyptian time) and will run for 24 hours. 

- You can donate here. And you can follow Facebook event coverage here.

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