Soft landing: Attending the launch of the Couch to 10K at University of Limerick Boathouse were Paul Austin, Get West and Barbera McCarthy, Mary Immaculate College Social Club Photo: Gareth Williams
‘BORN again’ is not a phrase you would often associate with women in their 60s, post retirement.
But the therapeutic effects of being on the water are being heralded by a group of Limerick women and men, who found kayaking to be their great escape, and who want to introduce still waters and the thrill of threading white water to the masses.
Helen O’Dea, a 61 year-old nurse and midwife, said that she had not been involved in sport since adolescence. But after being offered an introductory session, she was hooked.
“For very little investment – €35 - I was given an instructor, a canoe, paddles, a wet suit, a floating device, a helmet and a bunch of new associates who looked as nervous as I did. I was very nervous at first but now I am so delighted.
“Last night, I came down on white water, rocking my way back to the pontoon at UL, I could not believe I was managing so well. I felt so confident. I am alive again, starting a new phase in my life, born again,” she said.
Brid O’Connell, 57, took up kayaking just over two years ago and later this month she’ll be white-water paddling in the Alps to celebrate the end of her radiation treatment, after a diagnosis of breast cancer.
“It has become a passion and given me a new lease of life. I feel alive again,” she said. “When you have cancer your existence is brought into question; it hits you at a gut level, right to your very core and it isn’t easy to recover from. Your mood is one of the things that will suffer ups and downs.
“But when you go out on the water, your mood lifts, you see beauty around you, it’s just extraordinary. My only regret is that I didn’t find this in my 20s. It was there all along, but I just didn’t find my way to the water,” said Brid, a member of the Limerick Kayak Club.
However, Brid said that her love of being in the water began before her cancer diagnosis this January, and she is encouraging others to take up an upcoming 10km paddle challenge.
The free introduction to the waters, lasting about 20 minutes, will take place this Saturday, May 14, from 10 am to 12 noon, from the slipway near Sarsfield Bridge. The Kayaking Company in Castleconnell will be running a similar event on the same day.
In the city, all the necessary equipment will be provided free of charge by Paul Austin of GetWest, a local kayaking and adventure company. If you like it, you can register for the training programme and expect to be out on the water up to twice or three times a week during the summer, culminating in the 10k paddle challenge on August 20.
Waterways Ireland have teamed up with the Irish Canoe Union to launch this initiative. The exact route of the 10km has yet to be decided.
“If you’re sitting at home thinking to yourself that you really must do something to get fit, then that’s one reason. Another is, speaking as a psychotherapist, without a doubt, paddling is one of the best things I’ve ever come across for mental health and well-being. It’s just great fun. It releases all the endorphins,” said Brid.
“We have this wonderful river flowing through our city, and unfortunately it’s mostly associated with tragedy whenever we read about it. But the river Shannon is a wonderful resource, full of life and movement, and we need to reclaim it. It’s a huge source of life-giving pleasure, joy, well-being, and happiness.
“You’re out in nature, you’re in your own boat, you’re part of a group, it’s a little bit of an adrenalin rush, you might capsize, you might not, you’ve to learn how to move forward, sideways, backwards and yes, eventually upside down! The mum of three, who has done a ‘top drop’ down part of the Clare Glens describing it as the best adrenalin rush ever, said her husband has now followed her out onto the water, joking that ‘If I don’t go out on the water, I’ll never see her’.