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Open Water Swimming – Lessons for Life and Business

As some of you will know I got a bit more serious in 2019 about Open Water Swimming. It was a side effect of Triathlons and a couple of Half Irons .. as well as our effervescent CEO deciding we should swim from Asia to Europe across the Bosporus. The latter involved 2500 crazies diving off the side of a ship wearing nothing but speedos and a wince and heading up one of the world’s largest and ‘temporarily closed’ shipping lanes. Of the three triathlon disciplines it’s the only one where I am better than distinctly average. In short, I am outpaced by a drunk Coco the clown on a Unicycle on the bike leg and my run looks like John Wayne shot in both butt cheeks and being chased by a buffalo. You get the drift.

And so the Open Water Swim campaign began back in Donegal in May with the Crana Swim Series. What followed across the season was a further 17 Open Water Swims that took me to the exotic Istanbul and to local lakes like the ever beautiful Lough Erne, Camlough and Glendalough to the heady heights of a concrete bath outside Belfast that I think was a reservoir … only with more pee.

I had a done a small amount of Open Water Swimming in the past… but never became a member of the community. And what a community. A family like no other. Triathletes can be a little bit more edgy… perhaps just one caffeine gel short of some casual serial killing. You know the type – the ones that say they can do a Half Iron Swim in 25 minutes then drown everyone around them for the first kilometre. The swim is also the most dangerous part of any Triathlon – sadly the four deaths at Ironman events in 2019 were all in the water. A sobering statistic. The swim needs more attention from Triathletes.

So after 18 Swims ranging from 1.6km to 6.5km (I know I’m still only a tadpole) what are the lessons for life and business from Open Water Swimming.

  1. It Hurts: Sometimes you have just have to resign yourself to the fact you are going to be bloody miserable. The Crana Swim Series is amazing in May.  The Glendalough 3.9km is magical in October. The water temperature is about 8-9 degrees. I used to have testicles – sadly they are now floating around the coast of Buncrana. However if you let the cold in, appreciate its only for a relatively short time and quite simply ‘grow’ a set it will make you stronger in the long run. Stick with it, keep the focus, this too will come to pass.
  2. It’s Just You and the Water: One of the toughest things in business and life can loneliness. In the water it’s just you and your ability, experience and attitude. There is no one to fall back on. Am I on course; how do I keep going. The water is a great isolator and the calmness that can bring is truly something special. If you can stay calm, trust yourself, any obstacle in life or business can be tackled. Never panic it solves nothing. Embrace the occasional chaos.
  3. Where Am I: A lot of the time you have no idea where the hell you are going. An Open Water Swim can be made or broken based on the path you plot in the water. Visibility can be bad, conditions can make a route close to impossible. There is also little point following the Pros… they get lost as often as the sardines behind. Just like life and business don’t feel the need to follow the pack. Take ownership and responsibility – its your swim, your business – don’t complain or blame if you F**K it up. 🙂
  4. Take Advice: Most of the Open Water Swimmers in Ireland will know of Francie McAlinden. He is an open water giant. Winner of multiple ‘skin’ (this man eats wetsuits for breakfast) Global Swim Series and in a short a gentleman of the sport. At Rock Around the Point (in Warrenpoint.. funny enough) I asked Frankie for advice – his advice was simple and direct – ‘Just watch when you get to the end of that pier… it’s a bit like getting hit by a transit van’… it was. The Open Water community in Ireland is a family like no other… supportive, encouraging. Find those same supports in business and your personal life – these are the inputs that make the world a better place to live and thrive.
  5. Gender/Weight/Age Balance is a Given: I don’t think there is any other support where you look at the start line and have no clue who can swim like Michael Phelps on amphetamines and 34 cups of coffee. I have been beaten by every body shape, gender, disability … just like business and your personal life don’t underestimate the competition. It can be very humbling.
  6. No Hangovers: Don’t Swim with a Hangover. Just like the office don’t show up and expect to be effective. At Camlough this year the first night of three races was on a Friday. After a hard night with clients I thought a swim was just what I needed. Balls. I looked like an out of control Windmill and spent my time throwing up under the water. Sorry fellow swimmers. It was a sad day for the water quality at Camlough. Your performance will be affected, your delivery will stink and you will look like a dick in front of the family.
  7. There is Scary Shit Down There: The sea is full of scary shit that wants to hurt us. Often you won’t see it until there is a box Jellyfish with an unhealthy attraction to the old nether regions – or worse still making love to your new £75 Speedo Googles. Just like life expected the unexpected, sometimes you get hurt – the important thing is to keep going. If you get eaten by something well… nothing much you can do about that… but go down fighting.


Just like businesses across Ireland North and South Irish Open Water Swimming has its high value start-ups. We have some young swimmers coming through that would make your eyes water if you weren’t in the water already – they are the Zuckerberg’s and the Musks – stars like young Fiontan McComb who won Camlough Swim this year at 15 years old in a bloody Water-Skiing Wetsuit. A kid so good that he swam past me in the last 200 metres in Ballycastle this year – he was doing the 3.9km race. I was doing the 2.4km race.. the only one I won all season.. more luck than performance. Young Jordan Lecky and Lauren Archer who are winning the Global Swim series by such a margin that it must make the other 100,000 swimmers feel just a little mesmerised… a healthy thing for the chasing pack! Just like life and business find those that are at the top of their game – celebrate and support them – they are the future.

And that’s it. Go and try and the sport. Link up with the likes of Jacqueline McClelland @Infinity – these guys will take you through the Open Water Couch to 5km equivalent only with much more learning and craic along the way. Look forward to seeing you all in 2020… just don’t swim behind me when I have a hangover. 🙂

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