TWO friends who recently discovered solace and strength in the sea are taking on a swimming challenge called ‘30 Bays in 30 Days’ this month to fundraise for Pieta.
Glanmire Community College teachers Imelda Manning and Ashling Muldowney have been friends for 17 years, and last April, when they each found themselves in challenging personal situations, they turned to the sea where they found peace — and lots of laughter.
Ashling said: “My mom had passed away on November 12 and this had a detrimental impact on my mental health.
“Mel had knee replacement surgery towards the end of 2020 and unfortunately there were many complications.”
Ashling had actually started sea swimming on her own in June, 2020.
“At any opportunity I would grab the chance to get into the water. I loved the feeling of wellness and the benefits that being in the sea brought to me,” she said.
But, mainly for safety reasons, she called time on it in October.
“But I knew Mel had always wanted to swim so I picked up the phone last April 1 and we headed off to Garryvoe for our first swim together the next day,” she remembers.
Now, rain, hail or shine the pair can be found by the ocean at 10.30am every other day.
They swim for different reasons. Ashling says it’s helped her deal with her grief after losing her mum.
“As a family, we had been caring for my mom for over five years. It was a challenging five years, living away from home and not being able to give as much as you want. Even though she was sick, her passing was unexpected. She always bounced back but sadly not in November.
“I never expected the sheer and utter shock of losing her and it impacted me in a way I just was not prepared for. I live every day now to find balance between living and mourning.”
And for Mel it’s been vital therapy for her knee.
But Ashling added: “It’s provided us with so much more. It really is food for the soul with the sound of the water, the smell of the sea air and the craic as the waves at Inch rise above you. In the last four months, both Mel and I have found great solace and strength in the water. But the best medicine the sea provides for us is the laughter at the madness of it all.”
Imelda is originally from Limerick but living in Carrigtwohill, while Ashling is from Tralee and living in Cobh.
Imelda is married to Peter, and is mum to two adult children, Sarah and Billy, and a new granny to Baby AJ.
Ashling is married to Michael and they have two boys, Noah, aged eight, and Jacob, aged six.
The pair met when Aishling joined the staff of Glanmire Community College 17 years ago.
She teaches LC English, Religion and LCa Hair and Beauty and Mel teaches Chemistry.
“Mel was already a member of staff in GCC and through our work our friendship was formed,” said Ashling.
They swim together five days a week, sometimes the full seven, depending on their schedules.
“We always swim together, unless one of us is away in Kerry or Limerick. Even then we will still get the swim done alone, but it’s never the same as when we are swimming together,” said Ashling.
“Sometimes, some colleagues from GCC will also join us. We always take our time after. Mel brings a flask, we have our rituals and a picture is always taken and then made into a weekly collage on the Friday.”
They don’t set out to cover a distance, but swim purely for enjoyment. Their typical swim lasts around 20 minutes or so and is a mixture of swimming, treading water and chatting.
The idea for the fundraiser came from their experience as teachers, with Mel planting the seed, and pitching it to Ashling, who didn’t need much convincing!
“Working with young people every day, we see the importance of services such as Pieta, and GCC has a well established tradition of supporting Pieta.
“In 2018, GCC, in collaboration with Glanmire Chamber of Commerce, brought the first Darkness Into Light walk to Glanmire, so for both of us Pieta was the choice of charity.
“Never more than in recent times has people’s emotional wellbeing been tested so severely with the onslaught of Covid-19. Pieta is a charity that is close to both our hearts,” said Mel.
Dryrobes threatened to divide the nation at one point over lockdown, but even in the freezing cold waters back in April, the girls never used them, or wetsuits, and are hardcore all the way in their togs.
“As we’ll be continuing to swim throughout the year as we have purchased wetsuits for the cold winter months,” adds Mel.
They wholeheartedly encourage anyone to try sea swimming.
“It is so invigorating and good for both the body and mind.
“Find a buddy and head on out to the beautiful beaches that are dotted all over the county,” said Ashling, who stressed the importance of not swimming alone.
The two women say swimming has helped take their friendship to the next level.
“I’m 44 and Mel is 53 — she’s a glamorous granny! Our friendship has become so strong through our sea swimming.
“We have supported each other over the last number of months and I know we are both so grateful for the times and the laughs we have shared.
“We’ve helped to pick each other up when we’ve needed it, and also we are not afraid to tell each other to get a grip!”
Mel and Ash’s 30 Bays in 30 Days involves them swimming in 30 different bays over July.
Their list includes Gobby Beach, Tragumna, Ballinwilling, Garryvoe, Ardnahinch, Inch and Guileen with the full 30 listed on their Facebook page, and their fundraising target is €1,500.
See idonate.ie/MelandAsh for more or follow their Facebook page on Mel & Ash’s 30 Bays in 30 Days.
SUPPORT IS OUT THERE: SOME NUMBERS TO CALL
Pieta 1800 247 247
Support and helplines:
Samaritans 116 123
Aware Helpline: 1890 303 302
GROW 1890 474 474