Marathon swimmer inundated with goodwill messages from public
The security consultant started his marathon swim at Carrickfin beach in Co Donegal in September.
A Donegal swimmer, who is aiming to become the first person to swim around the coast of Ireland, says he has been inundated messages of goodwill from the public who are following his progress online.
Henry O’Donnell, 56, has been getting requests from people across the country asking him to swim a kilometre in remembrance of a loved one who has lost their life.
The father of six, who is raising money for two charities – The Irish Cancer Society and Water Safety Ireland, is a third of the way through his epic challenge having completed 500 kilometres through choppy waters with the aid of fins and a wet suit.
So far he has raised 10,000 euro, but his target is to raise 100,000 euro.
“We get requests in from people who have lost a loved one from drowning and they say: ‘will you swim a mile or two for my daughter or son who drowned’,” he said.
“We’ve also had requests from parents whose children are sick. That gives me a little bit of push and inspiration that I’m doing a miles for a particular person on a particular day.
“It inspires me to keep going and to raise as much as I can for the charities.”
He believes people are getting “a lot of positivity” from the event in the midst of the lockdown because they see that the team helping him is doing it for a good cause.
He said: “You look at the website and you see these amazing stories coming in and people are responding to it,” he said. “They realise that there’s a huge effort going into it.”
The security consultant started his marathon swim at Carrickfin beach in Co Donegal in September after four years of training. He has been swimming between five and 15 kilometres a day, depending on conditions.
He has conquered some challenging stretches of water including Tory Island, Malin Head and the sound of Rathlin where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Irish Sea.
His aim is to complete the swim within a year.
“I’ve been swimming in the sea since I was four years of age so it’s natural enough for me to do this but to do it out at sea about 12 to 20 miles off the coast is a little different,” he said.
“Nothing can take away the effect of cold water on the body and mind. It’s all about preparation in advance of an expedition like this.”
“But no matter how much prep you do nothing really prepares you for days when you end up in a really strong swell and you have to get out of the water for safety reasons,” he added.
Mr O’Donnell is no stranger to challenges, having previously become the first Irishman to swim the 14km around Tory Island, and later completed the 38km Donegal Coastal Challenge Swim in 1997 after recovering from a sporting accident in the 1990s which left him paralysed for a period of time.
“I unfortunately had a smash off a racing bike in the cycle phase of a triathlon event. I can’t remember it – I was told when I woke up in hospital. I was in a critical state. I was in a coma for quite a long time and paralysed from the neck down,” he said.
“The medical team went to work over a period of time. They saved my life. I had broken C1, which is critical, I broke C2, C3 and I had a fractured skull and multiple bone breaks. I could only move my eyes initially, so they communicated by asking me to move my eyes.”
After a number of operations he got the sensation back in his body.
He said: “I remember saying to the surgeon get my feet back on the ground and I’ll do the rest. He said: ‘I know you can do it. It’s going to be tough but I know you can do it. Within a year I was back competing.”
He said he didn’t feel sorry for himself, he “got on with it”.
“I know some people haven’t been so lucky,” he said. “I’ve been so fortunate. I don’t dwell on it. It was something that happened in my life. That’s why I like giving back.”
His progress can be tracked on the challenge website http://finswim2020.com/