By Brónagh Murphy of The Examiner.
History was made in the south Armagh village of Camlough this week when the Guinness World Record for longest continuous open water relay swim was smashed by a team of intrepid swimmers from across the country.
The swimmers not only broke the previous record of 480km but by Saturday – when the challenge officially ended after 232 hours, 52 minutes and 30 seconds – had added a massive 205.5km to set a new world record distance of 685.5km.
Beginning their challenge on Wednesday September 9th at 6.00pm, a total of 220 athletes swam in relay, day and night, around a 750m GPS-certified loop course in pursuit of the record.
Their quest took less than a week and came to fruition at 12.26pm on Wednesday September 16th when Newry swimming legend Myles McCourt reached the 480km mark. His relay crossover with Paul McCann from Lislea, signified the equalling of the previous record – believed to have been held by the Chinese – and it fell to Paul to forge ahead with the challenge to establish the new record.
TV crews, photographers and journalists descended on the lake to record the moment the record was smashed. Hundreds of spectators and well-wishers cheered as Myles emerged from the water, his arms held high in victory.
The masterminds behind the whole scheme were cousins Padraig Mallon and Aoife McCourt-Lynch, whose determination and foresight deserved the highest commendation.
Understandably, both Padraig and Aoife are ecstatic at its success but refuse to take all the glory, paying tribute to all the help they received from local businesses and individuals to put the whole scheme together.
“It’s just magic what people can do when they pull together,” a delighted Padraig said. “It has been like a festival here. Camlough is now recognised throughout the world for open water swimming.”
“It is something for the local area to achieve and to stand up and be proud of and shows the youth of the area just how much fun sport can be.”
Aoife described the feeling as ‘unreal’ saying it was unbelievable the amount of interest and support they have received from the public.
“From the witnesses, to the volunteers, to the kayak men, it’s been fantastic,” she said.
The event’s media coordinator, Maria Murphy, said that public support made a vital difference in the record bid.
“We’ve had hundreds of people coming along to give support to the swimmers. Local businesses have made a huge contribution to the staging of the attempt in terms of equipment, manpower and financial support. Without their help the cost would have been unmanageable,” Maria said.
“This was a very serious and ultimately very successful attempt to break the world record for the longest continuous open water relay swim, but it’s fair to say that there was a really buzzing, carnival-type atmosphere at the lake over the course of the 10 day marathon swim.”
It emerged during the celebrations that, due to limits of time and weather predictions, the whole event had to be organised within a three week timeframe.
More than 200 swimmers and hundreds more volunteers came onboard without hesitation, underlining the overwhelming public interest and support offered from the outset. And the fact that it took less than a week to break the record is testament to the determination and skill of the swimmers and organisers involved.
Throughout the duration of the event, the weather was extremely kind to the swimmers and the calm water led to wonderful swimming conditions, which saw many of the swimmers achieve personal best times. This in turn presented the organisers with logistical problems as the swimmers were time-tabled into specific time slots to cover the ten days originally anticipated to break the record. Several local swimmers were called upon more than once to fill in these gaps in times and were more-than-willing participants. A support kayak shadowed each swimmer throughout the challenge for safety reasons.
As the swim was originally anticipated to last ten days, it continued as planned until Saturday when the new world record of 685.5km was reached by Donna Cooke, the final swimmer to pass the finishing line and into the record books.
Padraig and Aoife then led a team of local children on a lap of honour around the lake. The children are all keen swimmers but were not experienced enough to make the grade and take part in the record swim.
Video footage, time-keeping logs and witness statements covering the whole ten day challenge must now be forwarded to Guinness World Records for verification – a process which may take up to a month.
Bronagh Murphy is a journalist with The Examiner, a local weekly newspaper based in Crossmaglen, south Armagh, Northern Ireland.