Who needs the sunny climes of Rio? One hundred and sixty swimmers from all over the north-west, and as far as England, Wicklow, Kerry and Dublin took to the waters of Gartan Lough for the second Gartan Swim Challenge on Saturday.
Aged from 9 to 65 they took part in their choice of the four races—300m, 750m, 1500m, 3800m—some for the sheer challenge, and others for the competition.
This was the second year of the event and organisers were delighted to see a 70% increase in competitors. Mark McCollum said, “Open water swimming is growing in popularity—just look around you here.”
This year saw the addition of a 300m junior race for under-16s. There were some very capable juniors in the longer races so this gave a chance for youngest swimmers to shine in front of the large crowd. Grant Carroll, a seasoned swimmer from Dublin said, “Those kids were just amazing. Seeing them was the best part of the day.” The junior race was won by Aidan Cutliffe from Derry, with Emily Dean second, and James Gleeson third.
Sixty-four swimmers took part in the ironman distance swim of 3.8k—two laps of the 1.9k circuit at Gartan. Letterkenny’s Aidan Callaghan won it in 53 minutes 12 seconds, nudging last year’s winner Declan Martin from Sligo into second, with Siobhan Gallagher coming 3rd in 55:29. Odhran McKane was the first junior in 55:40, and Gerard Curran from Derry was first home in the skins (no wetsuit) category in a time of 57:51
The 1500m also saw stiff competition among 54 swimmers with last year’s winner Brendan Doherty from Derry beaten into second by junior swimmer Luke McCarron in a time of 21:36, with skins swimmer Eadaoin O’Raw coming third in 23:05.
The high-speed 750m swim was a close battle at the front. Leading home the 30 swimmers was junior swimmer Brendan Bennett from England in 12:10 only just pipping Eadaoin Kelly at the finish, with Conor Morris just nipping third from Sinead O’Kane—all four swimmers in skins.
But it wasn’t just about the podium finishes, it was about the challenge of pushing yourself to do something new, or further. And many of the swimmers did just that—some who were new to open water swimming in the last few months, others who were trying a longer distance than last year. One swimmer, Julie Ann McGonigle, typified the challenge. Last year she was unable to finish due to feeling the effects of the cold, but came back, gloves and all and finished the 3.8km this year.
Proceeds and donations went to support another battle—Kathleen’s Causeway of Coins for the Donegal Hospice.
The race sponsors presented the prizes, with Danny Ruddy of Kathleen’s Causeway of Coins presenting the Junior prizes, (standing in for Liam Tinney of Tinney’s Toys who was swimming in the 1500), Malachi Eastwood of Gartan Technologies, Jason Black of Voodoo Venue and Arthur McMahon of Donegal Oil. Many other local businesses weighed in with event sponsorship (Swilly Group), hat sponsorship (Wet ‘n’ Wild), and with vouchers and spot prizes.
There was a great atmosphere with many commenting on the superb setting and facilities at Gartan Outdoor Education Centre. The organisers paid tribute to all who helped on the water and the land and made the event such a success.