independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Irish grandmother swims with alligators for cancer fundraiser

Josephine Fitzgerald with James Hennessy and ‘Battle’ the alligator at Reptile Village in Kilkenny. Pat Moore

PICKING up an 18-stone alligator and sitting on his back was no problem for one feisty grandmother – the hard part was sitting on the side of the tank waiting to get in.

But with a pressing appointment to swim with two toothy gators pencilled into her schedule, Josephine Fitzgerald had no intention of pulling out – not even when she was fixed with a beady jealous eye by a toothy female.

Josephine (58), from Callan, Co Kilkenny, had signed up to swim with the alligators at the Reptile Village in nearby Gowran to raise money for Breast Cancer Ireland in tribute to her daughter Cathy (35) who is currently fighting her second bout of the disease.

The water was colder than she thought it would be as she cautiously eased into the tank on Saturday afternoon.

But instead of panicking, she found herself becoming "very, very calm" as she focused on Battle and CC, the two alligators who may or may not have been eyeing her up as dinner.

"All I could see was Cathy," said Josephine, who blew a kiss to her daughter from the tank.

She had been advised to play dead if the alligators turned nasty.

"I was thinking, it's a wild animal and there is a risk here but I didn't freeze – I knew that if I was going to be nervous here and panic, I'd send it on to them so I kept calm," she revealed.

"Once we got his trust it was grand," she said of Battle, the big male alligator who weighs 18 stone.

"He's a big docile old thing and his skin, to feel it, it was amazing."

At one point, staff warned her "CC is coming" – the 14- stone female alligator who seemed to be a little jealous of all the attention Josephine was giving Battle.

But the staff pushed CC back and all was well, said Josephine.

She spent around 20 minutes in the water in total and when she came out.

Daughter Cathy became emotional and banned her mother from ever pulling a stunt like that again.

The money she raised in fundraising is still coming in – but Josephine's main concern is keeping the focus on the issue of breast cancer.

"When my daughter was diagnosed my whole world fell apart.

"I never thought it would happen. She is my only child and I would swap places with her in a heartbeat," she said.

Irish Independent

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