I have never actually met Michael as he lives in Ireland but he feels like a dear friend to me. The moment I started reading about Michael’s amazing determination and adventures I was captivated. Michael is such a humble family man who has achieved great things through discovering and pursuing his love of swimming. Michael holds the Guinness World Book of Records for underwater endurance swimming; has swum the entire 190km of the River Shannon in Ireland and has written two books about his journey.
Reading Michael’s books, I found them to be filled with deep and meaningful wisdom that could easily be missed. As you read Michael’s story, notice how he states things as a simple matter of fact, when in reality they are very profound. Michael is a truly inspirational and remarkable person.
I’m so excited that he is sharing his experience with us. What I enjoy most about Michael’s story is his determination to never give up. Even when things haven’t quite worked out as he’d hoped, he has another go and succeeds.
Tell us about your swimming and writing pursuits …… how did it all come about?
At the ‘young’ age of 26 I took my first swimming lesson. Eventually, after much huffing and puffing, I succeeded in my endeavours. From there I went on to the life saving class and in due course, after failing the prescribed exams twice, I received my certificate on the third attempt. Now it was onwards and upwards. During a casual conversation I was invited to do a Swimming Instruction Course. Happy with my success at qualifying as a Swimming Instructor, I went on to qualify as a Life-Saving coach as well. For the next 3 to 4 years, several times a week, I walked up and down the pool bank instructing others in various techniques. Whilst I enjoyed what I did immensely, I missed out on my own swimming.
I can thank my good wife Joy for what happened next. She spotted an advert in the evening paper with details of a Diving Course starting within weeks. I needed a break and a new challenge. I joined up and I never looked back. This was a whole new world. Over time I qualified as a Scuba Diver Instructor and was appointed Regional Diving Officer for the Eastern Region. The same scenario as happened with the swimming was occurring all over again. I was continually running courses and sitting on various committees with no time for swimming or diving myself.
I stepped down from the Irish Underwater Council and joined the Viking Sub Aqua Club. That was 36 years ago and I’ve never looked back. It gave me the time and opportunities to do the many hare-brained ideas that I did over the years.
The Guinness Book of Records:
At 37 I attempted and failed at the world underwater endurance record. However, three years later I did succeed on my second attempt and was included in the Guinness Book of Records for my efforts.
Michael held the World Underwater Record for some years. A dutch man broke it later with Michael’s assistance and then the event was discontinued for inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records as it was deemed too dangerous.
The North Channel Swim:
For my 50th birthday I completed a swim, non-stop from Ireland to Scotland. Succeeding at this, whet my appetite for long distance swimming. For my 51st I did the same trip in reverse.
Remember how I said at the beginning of this story that Michael makes things sound so simple? The two sentences you’ve just read above make the North Channel Swim sound so simple, but in reality, it is an incredible feat that Michael did twice in two years!
Here are a few facts about the North Channel Swim:
- This 35km swim has been swum by very few people in the world.
- It is considered to be the hardest of all Channel Swims as the water is between 10 – 13 degrees and the currents are incredibly strong!
- This combined with some of the most densely populated jellyfish territory in the world and constant waves up to 8ft tall makes the Irish Channel a very ambitious challenge.
- The North Channel Mull of Galloway is a unique and demanding swim, considered by many to be the ultimate long distance challenge.
- It isn’t just the distance that is the challenge, but more, the variable conditions that you are likely to encounter. These can vary from mirror like conditions to wind force 6 and wave heights in excess of 2 metres.
The River Shannon:
At age 60 I swam the longest lake in the British Isles called Lough Neagh, some seventeen miles long. But I wasn’t finished yet.
The one swim that I hold dearest to me is the one that was only ever done in a relay by eight people over four days namely the length of the River Shannon, the longest river in Ireland, and this was my Everest.
At 69 years of age I set off on the journey of my life on the 190 km swim. One week later after 72,631 strokes of my left arm, and great support from a few stalwart friends, it was in the bag, done and dusted. No words could express the feeling of completing that swim and making that dream come true. That, more or less, sums up my swimming career.
Roughly a year or so before the Shannon swim, my daughter happened to call by. Some of my loyal buddies were sitting around the table discussing the preparations and plans that we needed to put in place. She joined us for tea and listened to our conversation. When my co-conspirators left she asked me the following question,”Dad when did you do such and such a swim?” and various other bits. She genuinely didn’t know. This got me thinking. If she didn’t know, the rest of the family probably didn’t know either. They would only see me heading off with my kit bag.
I never talked about what I did. I assumed everyone knew. I decided to pull out all my diaries, copybooks and logbooks just to see what I had recorded. I always jotted down everything as I went along. One of my favourite expressions to any of the family when they would tell me about something important or unusual has always been, “write it down – keep a note of it.” And so the inspiration came to gather it all together.
After many months of sitting in front of the keyboard I realised I had written my life’s adventures. It found its way between two covers and I called it The Passenger Within. That was, to my surprise, my first attempt at writing. Life indeed is full of twists and turns.
What’s your background?
I’m from a large family, one of seven children. We started with little and still have most of it left. At 21 I married Joy, the love of my life. That was 50 years ago this February. We have been blessed with 8 marvellous children, 4 boys and 4 girls.
I’ve spent 40 years in the motor trade, first qualified as a mechanic before moving into the spare parts department. Over the years I ran a number of garages and in that time I was made redundant on no fewer than 5 occasions. For the last 10 years of my working career I worked as a security chauffeur for the Central Bank of Ireland. They were some of the happiest years of my life. I’m now retired.
How do you find the time to do it all? What’s your secret to ‘making time’ for everything?
Time is one commodity that is always in short supply. Something I strongly believe in is: if you want time, make the time; it will not find you. For me, something I really want is worth waiting for, even if it takes years.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I rise between seven and seven thirty and try to get to bed by midnight. At times I wonder how I ever had time for work because there never seems to be enough hours in any given day to do everything.
You took a leap of faith … did you ever wonder if you were doing the right thing?
After the long hours and all the hard work is done and finished, I vanish for a while and spend time silently and alone. This helps me to put everything into perspective. It also helps me to recharge the old battery. I never question, regret or doubt any decision I’ve made.
How did you make it happen?
I surrounded myself with good people. No man is an island.
What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
The World Record Attempt. After my first attempt – which was a total catastrophe – it took me many months to get over the disappointment. Not one to be beaten, I went back to the drawing board – to the very beginning. Three years later, after much soul searching and mighty long months of hard work, success was mine.
Can you give us some examples of when you’ve had to dig deep and be brave?
In the overall scheme of things, I’m far from brave. I’ve learnt to dig deep when I’ve started to question myself as to what or how did I get this far up the road. When you ask yourself, “Do I need this?”, or when you find yourself doubting your ability, feeling stupid, or losing your confidence, it’s time to dig deep.
I remember digging deep when I nearly froze to death in water temperatures of 5/6 degrees. That was an experience I recall clearly. Another time was during my Underwater Record Attempt when my colleague Stephen aborted after some 26 hours. I was now alone. I questioned myself as to how long would it be before I give up? This is probably where my Yoga and Transcendental Meditation came to the rescue.
What were the tough parts?
Tough Parts? All life is a challenge. I recalled a story about a tiny frog in my book, Is This What, on page 2-3 that sums things up. No matter what side of the road you are born, to get through life you need a certain amount of Perseverance, Determination, and of course endless Patience.
Who is your role model and why?
My parents, God be good to them. They showed and led by example that hard work never killed anybody and that every day is a good day.
What is the best advice you have received?
Many years ago I was confronted with a major problem. Asking my brother for advice, he replied by asking me a question:
“How would you eat an elephant?”
I thought for a moment, then, said “that’s impossible.”
“Wrong,” he said, “a slice at a time.”
Why do you do what you do?
Some people drink, while others smoke or do drugs. My fix is swimming, with a little bit of writing and hopefully passing on my passion to others.
What lessons have you learnt along the way?
Stop over thinking. You’re only creating problems that aren’t there.
What discoveries about yourself have allowed you to realize your passion for swimming and writing?
I have surprised myself on many an occasion. Nothing is impossible if you are prepared to put in the effort and make the necessary sacrifice to go after what you consider worthwhile.
What keeps you awake at night?
Nothing. I go to bed to sleep. The problems will still be there in the morning.
What gets you up in the morning?
The clock alarm generally. I’m a creature of habit.
How has pursuing writing changed your life?
It hasn’t. I’m still the same old me, as cracked as a bottle.
What’s next for you? What does the future hold?
There is nothing on the radar screen at the moment. However, I’m never short of having an iron in the fire. As always my future is in the good Lord’s hands.
Wisdom for others:
What’s the secret of your success?
I’m more than blessed to have the 3f’s.in my life – Family, Friends, and Faith. If you don’t have the first two with you, you may give up. As for faith, once the flame of faith dies out all other lights begin to dim.
What advice would you give to anyone who isn’t doing what they love?
Pack it in. Give it up. Why torture yourself?
How do you think each of us can live the fullest life possible?
By being honest with ourselves. All life is a challenge. Life is like a game of poker. Whatever hand you have been dealt can be a winner. It’s how we play the hand that’s important.
People who inspire me: My wife Joy, family and friends who have always been there for me with their support and loyalty. The list is endless. They will be forever and always in my thoughts and prayers.
Happiest place: No place like home.
Biggest passion in life: I love jam sandwiches.
Best bit of advice you have ever received:
When you need someone to believe in, look in the mirror.
Most inspiring film: I just love Cowboy Films and all of the James Bond Movies.
Most inspiring book: Unfortunately I’m ashamed to say I’m not a reader.
Best light bulb moment: Every day I put my feet out of the bed, is a wonderful day.
Anything is possible: My motto is: God and I can do this. After all the plotting and planning, I then hand over everything to the good Lord. He has always kept me safe and guided me.
Philosophy I live by: The late Mother Teresa summed it up much better than I could. (See the back cover of book 2 – IS THIS WHAT?). “And above all have respect for others.”
Quote I live by: Live and let live.