Saturday 16 December 2017

Brendan O'Connor: Maybe the hardest thing I've ever done

Misty waters: The outdoor swimming pool at Wild Water Armagh
Misty waters: The outdoor swimming pool at Wild Water Armagh
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

It had been agreed it was better that the children did not see me in this state.

Now I understood why. The little cabin had the alert, slightly tense but fast-moving and efficient air of an operating theatre. I was shaking uncontrollably as Molly and Olive, looking serious, kept layering warm towels on me in a matter-of-fact but urgent manner. As soon as the towels cooled down, which was quickly as my freezing body drained the heat out of them, they whipped them away and replaced them with more from a huge cauldron of hot water over the stove. They kept checking in with me, asking if I was OK. To which  my response was to keep asking them back, "Is this normal?" They would assure me it was, that the violent shivering was a good thing. One good thing is that I was mentally clear as a bell.

I was told to move over as my companion Pawel burst into the sauna, having done the full kilometre.He got the same treatment. The checking in with him involved repeatedly asking him "Where are you from?" "I know where I'm from", he answered eventually. I sat there next to him reflecting on the extraordinary journey he had taken me on. The latest stop of which was here, in a sauna in a cabin in Armagh. At the start of the summer, when the doctors had told me I could breaststroke gently up and down the pool, Pawel, who teaches my kids to swim, had gently suggested to my wife that I should come and see him. He had me front crawling on the first lesson and before the end of the summer he had me doing a 50-minute open water swim in Dublin Bay.

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