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Husband and Wife Smash 2 Swimming World Records in 2 Weeks
Wednesday 1st February 2017

Oonagh and Keith Garry of Peak Performance Recruitment have made the history books, not just once but twice within 2 weeks with successive solo and relay crossings of the North Channel.

After 11 months of hard training, Keith was physically and mentally prepared to take on the North Channel, crossing from Ireland to Scotland, as a solo swim on August 14th2016.   Keith, understandably, had some trepidation on the day of the swim, having heard that two others had failed in their attempts the previous day, however under the watchful guidance of Padraig Mallon from Infinity Channel Swimming, Keith left the shores of Donaghadee on the North Coast of Ireland at 8:10am.   His only attire - a pair of Budgy Smugglers and swimming hat, as dictated by the rules of open water swimming.

This was Keith’s second channel swim, having completed the English Channel in 2014.  In successfully dealing with the severe weather conditions on that day, he went on to receive an award for the ‘most meritorious swim’ of 2014. The sea conditions for Keith’s North Channel swim could not have been more different, as the water was like a mirror. As he inched towards Scotland, Keith was supported by his wife, Oonagh and friend, Damian Martin who would throw hot feeds to him every 30 mins, taking care that he did not touch the boat as this would disqualify his attempt. Everyone on the boat roared encouragement to try and push him to the record. They would communicate via a white board, writing various messages of support from well-wishers, training mantras and pictures of his 2 boys Oisin and Finn giving a thumbs up to keep him motivated as he swam.

Although Keith missed the overall record held by Michelle Macy (USA) with a time of 9hrs 35mins, he happily claimed the record for the fastest solo male, covering a distance of 40km in 9hrs and 57 mins. The record was previously held my Mikol van Gool from the Netherlands in a time of 10hrs 34 mins.

Keith has now completed 2 out of 7 swims on his journey to complete the Ocean’s 7 swims. A series of the world’s most difficult channel swims around the world.

Less than two weeks later, Keith’s wife Oonagh was set to cross the North Channel as part of a relay with her Waterpolo team, Donegal Diamonds of Belfast. The Diamonds team had 2 relay teams - ‘Crazies’ and ‘Deadlies’ and were attempting to race across the North Channel, again under the pilotage of Infinity Channel Swimming. Oonagh was on team ‘Channel Swimming Crazies’ accompanied by Ruth McGuigan, Nuala McGurk and Alana Sweeney. Each swimmer was due to swim for 1 hour in the same rotational order until they touched Scotland, under the same rules, wearing only a swimsuit and normal swim cap.

On August 25th, the two teams set off from Donghadee at 4am under darkness with glow sticks strapped to their swim suits and goggle straps. The first swimmer, Alana was unable to see the Lion’s Mane jellyfish through the thick blackness and received the first blows from the menaces. As daylight appeared, they couldn’t believe their luck as the conditions were even better than Keith’s swim and, at halfway, a pod of porpoises appeared, jumping and playing for their entertainment. Although the pictures give the appearance of tropical conditions, the water was 13-14 degrees C.

When Keith telephoned the boat for an update, he could hear a whistle blowing every 30 seconds. This was the warning whistle from the jellyfish spotter who was positioned at the front of the boat to help the swimmer avoid the deadly stings. After one full rotation, Padraig and Oonagh began to realise that a record was on the cards telling the rest of the girls to swim out of their skin. They left nothing out there with each exiting the water breathless after a full hour of effort. All girls on both boats suffered stings and after their relay legs were aided by other team members with shaving foam and credit cards to scrape of the active tentacles.

Crazies took a small lead, which they just held onto, finishing 25 mins ahead of the Deadlies. They touched Scottish shores after 9hrs 55 mins, taking 23 mins off the previous record set by an American three-man relay team. Deadlies completed in a time of 10hrs 20 mins. Of course, being a water polo team all jumped in at the end to throw the ball about for a play on the Scottish Shores.

Back on shore there was a great celebration as Oonagh and the teams were welcomed by Keith, their two boys Oisin and Finn and other team family members. Many made comments to the boys noting the pressure of having a world record holding mummy and daddy.

Training for both swims started in October 2015, with Keith training as much as 30hrs per week at the peak.  He also took on the challenge of swimming an ice kilometre (below 5 deg C) in January to push his body and understand how cold he could go. Balancing family, work and training was, at times difficult, but like all goals, the sacrifice was worth the reward.  

Keith and Oonagh are often asked 'what's next', to which they reply that they are looking forward to some down time and relaxing with their sons and doing normal family stuff without the pressure of having to train. Keith is in no immediate rush to complete the Oceans 7 and happy to take his time and enjoy the remaining swims that have their own separate challenges and sea life to contend with.  (Though do watch out for news of a possible Catalina Channel attempt in July 2017.)

The North Channel is considered the most difficult channel swim in the world. This is due to the colder sea temperatures (11-14 degs C), strong currents and the infamous Lion’s Mane jellyfish. The Ocean 7 Swims include the English Channel, North Channel, Cook Strait (New Zealand), Catalina Island (USA), Tsuguru Strait (Japan), Gibraltar Strait, Molakai Channel (Hawaii).

More information on the Oceans 7: http://www.openwaterswimming.com/community/oceans-seven/

Irish man Steven Redmond was the first person in the world to complete this challenging series of swims.

Follow Keith's swim blog here: http://ginganinjaswims.blogspot.ie

See photos from various swims here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ginganinjaswims/albums

 

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