Sunday 21 July 2019

Jack on top of the world after his latest triumph

Clogherhead sporting great Jack McCullough is enjoying some well-earned down time in Canada for the summer as he revels in his new title of World Global Swim Series champion.

The 19-year-old won the final race of the series in Saraosota, Florida, by just three seconds against his chief rival Robert Landriault and pipped the reigning Canadian Open Water champion to the title in the Male Senior Wetsuit Division, as well as taking the honours in the 19 & Under section.

The final event of the series took competitors to Lido Key in Sarasota, Florida, with Jack going into it as a narrow leader in both the Male Senior and Under-19 standings thanks to his consistency, high number of podium positions and fast times in the 15 races he competed in, taking in Mayo, Galway, Athlone, Dublin and Portrush.

In all, more than 100,000 swimmers participated in GSS events during the season, using a unique Global Ranking system that recognises speed and participation to earn points from the various races.

Preparation in the months leading up to the 11km race went well for Jack as he trained with Drogheda Triathlon Club and in Aura Swimming pool before and after college in DCU, clocking up at least 50km per week in the pool.

Jack and his dad Padraig travelled to Lido Key five days prior to the race for acclimatization, but a storm swept down from Miami and on the morning of the race there were fears it wouldn't go ahead due to the rough sea conditions. Officials eventually gave the 'green light' and it was all systems go.

With more a hundred competitors from around the world, it was highly competitive in the tough, shark-occupied waters. Each competitor needed an individual kayaker for safety due to the potentially hazardous conditions - in Jack's case it was his dad Padraig - and the rules stipulated that both the kayaker and swimmer needed to finish the race together.

The start was frantic and Jack broke away with a leading group of 10 swimmers, accompanied by a large dolphin presence!

At the 3km turn around the island, the strong rip currents and large waves broke the swimmers into vast separations. At one point Padraig's kayak toppled over and he had to chase after Jack some minutes later after being rescued.

Around the final bend of the island, with another 3km to go, the conditions remained severe, but Padraig caught up with 400m remaining and a tired Jack give a final spurt in the last 100m to beat Landriault in a thrilling finish.

Along the way to this remarkable success, Jack had won the Senior National 10km title at the Irish Long Distance Championships and the Senior Men's Northern Ireland Swim Series.

The official World Global Swim Series final results broke a few days after the Florida race and it was then that Jack was confirmed as double World champion in the Wetsuit Division for both Under-19 and Senior Men.

Previously, Jack had won a number of All-Ireland titles in swimming, running, triathlon and aquathlon events, as well as representing Ireland in running and capturing a European Under-19 silver medal in sea swimming.

There was little time to rest for the newly-crowned champion as he returned to two weeks of exams in DCU and has just finished his first year in St Patrick's College DCU where he is studying to be a religious education teacher.

Last Thursday he flew across the Atlantic to spend the summer working and training with the Canadian open water swimmers, probably at a more sedate pace!

'It was a very difficult swim and I was never as tired after a race,' Jack responded as he looked back on his remarkable achievement.

'I didn't know what the Canadian swimmer looked like or where exactly he was in the water, so it was brilliant when I found out I'd won. I was training a whole year for it, so I'm heading off to Canada now for the summer to relax and to swim - for leisure and competition. For me swimming is relaxation anyway.

'I'm not thinking about too much in the future, but if my swimming takes me to the Olympics one day, that would be great.'

Such success couldn't have been achieved with incredible support from the public, whose generosity helped send Jack to Florida. His main sponsor was the Monasterboice Inn. Also there were generous donations from Hanley Callebrations (via Drogheda Triathlon Club), Cllr Tom Cunningham, TD Imelda Munster, The Fitness Room Dunleer (Patrick Lavery), Centra Dunleer (Eamonn Victory), Standard Brands, Wogan's Hardware Dunleer, Lizzy's Fruit & Veg shop Dunleer and Glitz N Glam's Hairdressers Castlebellingham.

There was a flag day organised via Drogheda Triathlon Club where family and friends from Tredagh Boxing Academy all rallied together, with overwhelming support for Jack in Clogherhead, Termonfeckin, Dunleer and Drogheda.

There was also an Easter raffle organised by Liz and Vanessa Devine and fund-raising events by Kathleen Mc Cullough in the community, while Patrick White and sponsored Jack's T-shirts and tops for travelling and attending the event.

Drogheda Independent