The water does not know what age you are, it treats us all as equals... you can start at any time

The water does not know what age you are, it treats us all as equals... you can start at any time
Swim instructor Eilis Burns in the water. Picture: Larry Cummins

TWO Cork swimming sensations are making international waves in their field and are looking for your vote to solidify their place in Open Water swimming history.

Legendary swim coach Eilís Burns and veteran marathon swimmer Ned Denison have both been nominated for World Open Water Swimming Association Man and Woman Of The Year Award. There are just 15 nominees in each category, from all over the world and Ned and Eilis are the only two Irish Nominees.

The WOWSA awards, which began in 2008, are not for the best athletes, but are meant to honour the individuals who “best embody the spirit of open water swimming, possess the sense of adventure, tenacity and perseverance that open water swimmers are known for, and have most positively influenced the world of open water swimming during the year”.

Eilís, who has been swimming since the age of three and competing from the age of seven, has been swimming for 53 years and said the award would put Ireland and Cork under the spotlight for open water swimming.

“Male or Female of the Year is the highest honour one can have and one we would be proud to represent,” Eilís said.

Ned, a dual UK/US citizen, living in Ireland for the past two decades, described the WOWSA nomination as the “people’s choice award for actors.” and said it puts Cork in front of tens of thousands of open water enthusiasts globally.

Discussing the growth of the Open Water swim scene in Cork over the past two decades, Ned said in the past 18 years, open water swimming has become extremely popular in Cork.

“From a pretty humble status in 2000 to 140 marathon swimmers, 350+ annuals Lee swimmers, and the Sandycove Island Challenge and many other events, it’s a pretty massive explosion,” Ned said.

“We have people from all walks of life taking to the sea,” Eilís said.

“We have social swimmers, competitive, short distance, long distance, triathlon, young and old, and all because of the love of the water and the sea.”

Eilís Burns, head swim coach Leisure World. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Eilís Burns, head swim coach Leisure World. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Eilís said swimming is an integral part of her life and she is a better person for it.

“Swimming is a part of who I am.

“It is my form of training, physically, mentally and emotionally. It allows me to have time out, to think, to relax, to work out and it’s where I go to be still.”

For Ned, swimming is also a break from the world.

“In the open water, no two swims are the same. I am goal driven so the number of laps in a pool or the distance in open water drives me.

“Open water swimming is an easy outlet for goals, Swim the English Channel, swim a million metres this year, swim 500 times around Sandycove Island this year, the possibilities are endless.”

Having trained dozens of Channel swimmers and marathon swimmers with the only stipulation being they raise funds for a charity of their choice, Eilís said she loves coaching and sharing her world of swimming.

“I want people to not only learn to swim, but to learn to love the water.

“To love the water allows you to enjoy the elements. It’s like being in space. I want to share my experience and allow people the same benefits I enjoy in my sport.”

Over €100,000 has been raised for charity by swimmers being coached by Eilís to date.

Eilís, who is also a trained psychotherapist and water-based psychotherapist, said her greatest achievement, outside of her own swimming, is being in a position to meet and teach so many people, of all ages, at all levels.

“Helping people find the love, joy and freedom water can give them in their own lives and to pass on my love of the water is fantastic.”

For Ned, who has swum 47 marathon swims including the English Channel, Catalina Channel, Santa Barbara Channel as well as doing the Manhattan Island Marathon swim, and Formentera to Ibiza in 2016, among other achievements, said being a part of the open water swimming explosion in Cork, that is recognised internationally, makes him proud.

Ned organises Cork Distance Week, various Sandycove Challenges and has recruited hundreds of swimmers to be active in open water.

Open water swimmer Ned Denison. Picture: Larry Cummins
Open water swimmer Ned Denison. Picture: Larry Cummins

Both Eilís and Ned was also been inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in recent years.

Offering advice to those who may be contemplating a New Year’s resolution to start swimming, Eilís emphatically encouraged anyone with the motivation to go for it.

“The water does not know what age you are.

“It treats all as equals. You can start at any age, at any time, anywhere. We are an Island after all.”

Ned said swimming is a very inexpensive hobby.

“The sport requires goggles, togs and a cap. Local events are €40 or less. Even jogging costs more.”

Eilís also advised people to never swim alone.

“Be safe, have fun and most of all, enjoy.”

To vote for Eilís and Ned and help them secure the title of WOWSA Man and Woman of the Year log onto

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