Swim sensation Rachael an Outsider of the Year

by James Hendicott

DISTANCE swimmer Rachael Lee has won the Outsider Magazine Woman of the Year Award, after she broke her own boyfriend’s Irish record for the fastest English channel swim last year, crossing from Dover to Calais in a time of nine hours and 40 minutes.
The Malahide woman’s achievement is all the more impressive given she trained for the swim around caring for young twin boys, often waking in the early hours for strenuous training sessions, alongside jobs as a firefighter and a nurse.
“The award meant a lot, particularly as there’s not a lot of recognition in marathon swimming,” Lee told GazetteSport. “Obviously, you don’t do things like this to win awards; you do it or yourself, but it’s a huge honour. Swimming just takes over your life for that time.
“I was going for the Irish record [previously held by Lee’s fiancé Tom Healy] but to get such a high-profile award for it is overwhelming.”
Describing her training, Lee modesty summarised her balancing efforts as “having a lot of balls in the air”.
The actual extent of her time-management is hard to imagine. “I’d be in the water for 5am,” she recalled. “The kids would go to bed at 7 and some days I’d have to go back to training then and I could be out training until 10pm.
“You have to train specifically for swimming in the sea, which is a different thing to the consistent water of a pool.
“I did a lot of swimming in lakes and rivers and travelled to experience some different water, swimming in Barcelona, for example. You have to get used to the cold, and typically you put on weight for the crossing itself, too.
“I gained about 4kg ahead of the swim, in preparation, but you don’t really notice the temperature because you’re working so hard.
“Swimming in the sea is a very different thing; you have to worry about weather, sea creatures, stuff like that.”
She adds she was stung on numerous occasions by jellyfish during her crossing. During the swim, Lee faced a number of challenges, and identified the closing stages of the 12-mile distance as the greatest challenge.
“A lot of people don’t make it through the final stages,” she said. “I knew that would be the greatest challenge. The tide turns in the channel every six hours, and that has a big impact. Sometimes you feel like you’re taking two strokes forward and one back. I stopped for a feeding break every half an hour, for 20 seconds, just to get some energy into me.”
“I felt very strong when I saw the land,” she continued. “That can be psychologically difficult for people because there’s still a lot of swimming to be done when you reach that point. I was specifically going out for the Irish record, which I got by 11-minutes.
“The conditions were difficult. I don’t think I have much luck with conditions, every time I go out there seems to be difficulties.”
Lee had to abandon an attempt at the channel in 2015 after a storm emerged from clear conditions five hours into her swim. She abandoned the swim after seven hours.
The major issues around such sports are sponsorship: essentially, there isn’t much.
“I’m still paying off the costs of the channel swim,” Lee explains. “It is so costly to do, with the support boats, the cost of travel for training, the cost of training itself, stuff like that. There’s not much money in these sports. We’d love a sponsor, if one wanted to come forward. We’ve got a bit of money from a couple of organisations before. But you make do, it’s not about the money.”
Lee’s next event will be slightly different – her wedding in August – but she still has major swimming ambitions on the horizon. “I’m looking at something big in 2018,” she told us. “I don’t want to give away the details just yet as I’m not sure of them myself, but there’s more to come.”

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