‘The Channel Swimmer’ is the title awarded to few people in this world. A title that is earned only after spending hours upon hours in swimming pools, in the sea, swimming kilometre after kilometre.
Maeve Carey (37), an IT technician at Done Deal from Wexford is one of these people. She earned this title last summer on the 30th of July when she embarked on a journey from a small beach in Folkestone near Dover to swim from there and arrive roughly 14 hours later at Cap Gris Nez, a beach in France.
“That January I had just wanted to set a goal, set a target, it was just a typical New Year’s resolution.
“People had been prodding me in the club to go for it. People used to see me swimming down in Waterford in togs and said that I should just go for it.”
Unlike the usual New Year resolutions, Maeve took an ‘all in’ approach which meant that she had to jump in at the deep end and starting her training regime straight away. Time was already against her.
“People usually start training at least a year in advance”
Maeve’s decision was a last minute one. She knew she wanted a challenge and had being a swimmer her whole life. She now finally had the time and experience to devote to this huge undertaking. Maeve had gained a lot of experience from her time with the Wexford Masters swimming club which sees at least one relay team attempt the Channel swim each year.
The last team from the club that tried to cross the Channel had to pull out due to rough conditions, Maeve had said. Yet despite the club sending a team over every year, this was to be her first crossing, which she chose to do without a team.
“If I do something, it’s full on”, Maeve said. “I wanted to do it under my own control, I sign up on my own and it’s my name there. “
Her mind-set is one that many great athletes have adopted over the years, a single minded determination to see things through. Her approach to the subject was calculated and optimistic, as the coming year was going to be very tough, with a chance she might not even be able to swim if weather conditions were not permitting.
“There was one girl that got pulled half way through because the weather just turned, it started kicking up and she wasn’t going to complete it.”
Maeve’s training began very quickly after her decision to sign up for the Everest of swims. She contacted Colm Breathnach who had also completed the challenge in 2013 and he became her unofficial coach. He started giving advice and setting her training sessions which she had to stick to. They set up a spread sheet online to keep track of her progress. Colm checked in on her every now and again.
Maeve started out doing six kilometres a week, then ten kilometres a week which quickly became thirty kilometres a week which she maintained right up until the day of the swim. Maeve’s qualifiers for the event saw her spend six hours of continuous swimming in the sea, been observed by an independent observer and also her friend, Heike Coners, who paced the beach for six hours keeping an eye on her.
In that time Maeve swam a 1.25 kilometre length of Curracloe beach eleven times; but this was not a concern for Maeve who had completed ten hours of swimming in the sea on Colm’s advice.
“Six hours is a doddle you still have glucose reserves and all, ten hours gives you a real indication of what it’s going to be like.”
All of Maeve’s training culminated with an eighteen kilometre swim in UCD’s 50-meter pool in one session. This became a weekly trip to Dublin for Maeve where she would spend six hours training every Saturday.
Maeve was hoping for a twelve hour crossing time, but it was not to be. Maeve’s swim week was in mid-July where she waited in the small town of Folkestone for her big day to come.
“Every day I spent a lot of time on wing guru [weather app]. That was the hardest part was the exercise of pure patience, all I could think about was the swim.”
During her wait, an American swimmer who was scheduled to get out before her had to postpone because the weather had turned and she had to wait again.
On the last possible day for her to swim she got a call to go. Maeve was only allowed to wear a standard swim suit, one swim cap, a pair of goggles and couldn’t touch the boat at all or else the observer, Cathy Bates, would pull her from the water.
Maeve’s training had made the crossing a smooth experience. She had a flawless swim for the first seven hours, eating oats mixed with water and some chocolate protein powder every forty-five minutes.
It started to become really difficult when she was ten hours in. The coast was in sight but the current was so strong she felt like she wasn’t moving at all. It was dark at this stage and keeping her head down while swimming was now becoming a mental challenge.
“I could see the French coast ten hours in but I didn’t zone in on it until the last two hours. But the current was taking me and I was putting a lot of effort in but not getting anywhere.”
The arrival in France wasn’t as glorious as people might believe. It was dark and Maeve was exhausted after 14.49 hours of swimming. That amounted to forty kilometres. There was no welcoming party other than her only team mate Heike who offered a familiar face and a well-deserved cup of tea.
Maeve has since won the National Kettlebell Championship  in Limerick and hopes to return to the pool to continue improving her swimming soon.
By Nick Moloney