'To land on a French beach and raise the Kerry flag is my goal'
Elaine Burrows-Dillane will swim the English Channel in September to raise money for Brain Tumour Ireland. She talks to Stephen Fernane about her preparations and how she hopes to raise as much as she can for BTI
Elaine Burrows-Dillane will swim the English Channel in September to raise money for Brain Tumour Ireland. She talks to Stephen Fernane about her preparations and how she hopes to raise as much as she can for BTI.
In early September Elaine Burrows-Dillane will stand on a beach off the coast of Kent in southeast England. Behind her the white cliffs of Dover will reach to the sky, before her a 32km swell of choppy, unpredictable currents that pay no heed to a swimmer's aspirations.
Her objective is to reach a shore in northern France and raise the Kerry flag in triumph of becoming the first Kerry woman to swim the English Channel. In many ways Elaine's humble and self-effacing personality belies the sternness of the challenge ahead. Less than 100 Irish people have completed the English Channel swim, while fewer people have completed the Channel swim than completed the climb of Mount Everest. A tall order.
"I always wanted to swim the channel. It was on my bucket list since I was a child and I'm looking forward to it. Once I made up my mind at Christmas, I knew I was doing it. My attitude is simple: 'I'm doing it' and that's that," she says.
Elaine's aim is to raise money for Brian Tumour Ireland and for children diagnosed with a brain tumour. This is something that has touched the lives of people close to Elaine over the years. She knows the anguish it causes parents when told a child has an inoperable brain tumour.
"I always swore that if my dream of swimming the channel ever came to pass that I would raise money for the charity," she says.
Elaine's Channel swim is also an expensive undertaking and she is looking for as many people as possible to get behind her through sponsorship and by raising money for her chosen charity. So far the public response has been great with big GAA names like Eoin 'Bomber' Liston and Kieran Donaghy getting behind her.
"I would love for people to come out and support me. I appreciate all the help I get and if anyone wants to help me they can do so by getting in touch and following me on Facebook."
Elaine is certainly not cocky about the task ahead. She knows her sport too well for that to happen. She's also conscious of the fact that many before her have swam the Channel, including some of her closest friends. Ever since she was a child Elaine loved swimming in the sea.
However, the English Channel is a swim that she prefers to leave some aspects of to the imagination: 'be prepared and take it as it comes' is her motto. Elaine's philosophy is crystal clear - work hard and do it for yourself.
"Putting myself out there is not me and I'm not one for the limelight. I'm not doing anything that other people haven't done before me; I have friends that have done it. I'm doing it for me."
Elaine's Channel swim will start at around 3am, which means she plans to spend most of her summer nights in Fenit preparing. Elaine is not nervous about the challenge, respectful yes, but far from overawed.
"I'm not nervous. I know I will have the boat next to me and that side of it wouldn't worry me," she says.
Elaine's preparation involves an excruciating combination of pool, sea and gym work over six days a week. Her team is Ger McDonald (pool), Kevin Williams (sea) Wayne Murphy (strength and conditioning). It's down to a combination of putting Elaine through her paces and keeping it interesting. Elaine is also bolstered by Micheál Lynch as her physio, while John O'Sullivan and her daughter, Muireann, swim with her to give encouragement. She also has many more important people helping her behind the scenes.
"Ger has been brilliant keeping me motivated. He knows how much I prefer swimming in the sea to swimming in the pool and counting tiles! But there hasn't been one time that I haven't enjoyed the pool, and I never thought I'd say that. Kevin is making sure that my sea sessions are kept up to scratch and my strength work is down to Wayne - he is just brilliant."
In 2018 Elaine became the first woman to swim from Fenit to Blennerville (16k). Also in 2018 - in water temperatures of 10 degrees - Elaine attempted the Fastnet Rock to Baltimore swim. She had to be called in after six and a half hours due to fears of hypothermia. Elaine is currently clocking around 32km a week and in July she aims to top the 100km mark.
"Once I do that 100km it will be down to avoiding injury and bad weather at that stage. Because I didn't get to finish the Fastnet swim last year, I'm going to do that before the English Channel. Mentally, for me, that is a swim I have to do first."
The English Channel Association rules mean that Elaine must wear one togs, one hat and one pair of goggles. After an hour she will be thrown a 250ml drink that she must consume within 30 seconds. Every half hour after this she will be given a drink. Her coaches will be in the boat by her side and watching her every move for signs of distress. Elaine's family are also 110 percent behind her especially husband Brendan and their children Sean and Muireann. If you're in Fenit over the summer, keep an eye out for Elaine and give her a word of encouragement. She appreciates the support.
"I'm so blessed with the team and support I have. People have been so supportive and the more support I get the better. To get to the other side is my goal and I intend to get there, all going well. I want to land on a beach in France and raise the Kerry flag as the first Kerry woman to do it. That would be some feeling."
To donate, support and follow Elaine's progress, visit her Facebook page: 'Elaine Burrows-Dillane: English Channel Swim'