ENDURANCE swimmer Paddy Bond returned to work as a World Champion this week after winning gold at the International Ice Swimming Association competition in Burghausen on Friday last.
Bond (37), who works as an electrician, travelled to Germany with his wife Catherine where they joined the other members of the Irish team who were taking part in the Championships.
This event, which is held every two years, is the Olympics for winter swimmers all over the world. This year’s event attracted over 1,000 competitors from more than 30 countries.
The first day of competition was dedicated to the tough endurance event. This involves swimming 1,000 metres in 2-3°C water conditions and minus air temperatures. The eight lane 25 metre pool was cut out of a frozen lake.
Speaking to the Donegal News this week Paddy explained that, to qualify for participation in this event, he had to race in Armagh last year. There are risks associated with swimming the 40 lengths required and therefore entry criteria is very strict.
Ice swimmers train rigorously in indoor pools to build endurance and carefully acclimate to cold water with progressively longer swims in rivers and lakes.
Chairman of the Swilly Seals Swimming Club, Paddy was under the expert tuition of the Seals head coach Chris Hudy before moving to Gartan Lake where he had his dad, also Paddy, for company.
Paddy senior wore a wetsuit during those training swims while Paddy (Jnr) had to make do with trunks, cap, earplugs and goggles – the only equipment allowed in competition.
“I had been hoping to swim close to sixteen minutes in Germany but it took me 17:40 which left me disappointed as I got out of the water. The event is run in heats and I didn’t know how I got on until later in the day it emerged that I had actually won my age group. I was delighted,” he said.
What Paddy didn’t realise at the time was conditions had been far from ideal with air temperatures at minus 18 around the pool.
“It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I was gasping for air throughout the whole race and I felt my whole chest compressing but now I know the reasons why,” he said.
“I did all of my early training in The Aura and then went out to Gartan maybe twice a week over Christmas where the water temperature was about four degrees,” he added.
The organisers measure the pool dimensions out on the ice and then take chain saws to cut through the ice. They then place a wooden frame around the pool with steps going down into the water, a timing board and all the rest. The one thing not allowed is a diving start due to the cold temperature of the water.
The 1,000 metre event is the ultimate in terms of endurance. All races are run in heats with the best overall time taking gold.
“When you come out of the water you’re taken straight into a sauna but the biggest problem is trying to heat up the extremities – your fingers and toes. You dip them into tepid water while there’s also medical people present to keep an eye on your blood pressure,” he said.
What does it feel like to be a world champion?
“It’s surreal. We often take part in swimming events when you come and do your very best and get nothing in return so you take it whenever you get it,” he laughed.
Paddy swims twelve months of the year and he’s back in the water in Armagh in two weeks time to take part in the Irish Championships.
“They’ve a permanent pool in Camlough outside Newry and we’re trying to bring the World Championships here in two years time. Great credit must go to the likes of Anne Marie Ward (Portnablagh) who is a World-wide ambassador for the sport. She was one of the early trailblazers and is a former world champion herself,” he said.
Apart from winning the World title, Paddy also took part in a number of shorter events over the weekend, winning old gold and four silver medals in the process.
Paddy was competing in the M35 category while Ballyshannon native, Sarah O’Malley-Daly secured the bronze medal in the W50 race.
The youngest son of Paddy and Mary Bond, Paddy has an older brother Martin. Married to Catherine, the couple have four children Joseph, Caoimhe, Jack and Paddy.
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