Super Women, Extreme Challenge
ow does a woman who joined the ICA a year ago, to get grips with quilting, crochet and Christmas decoration crafts, end up waist deep in mud, looking like a swamp monster? It’s a reasonable question. How many of us can claim to have jumped out of a plane and landed in a cornfield with a handsome man? Abseiled down Croke Park Stadium? Travelled the world alone? Trekked in Venezuela or climbed Kilimanjaro? Not typical pursuits in general but ICA ladies seem to be made of some kind of titanium. No matter what you throw at them they have the power to deflect, overcome, survive and thrive. And while crafts, socialising and the occasional tea and bun are also part of their lives, they love to challenge themselves physically and mentally with extraordinary tasks that test their mettle. In this issue we meet five fabulous women who have undertaken massive challenges for personal reasons, to support others and just for the hell of it. Each one of them has achieved personal goals, broken barriers and pushed boundaries. Their extraordinary stories will leave you inspired and raring to go!
Gill Harte Kilkerley Guild, Louth Federation
“A friend turned 50 last year and one of the things she had on her bucket list was Hell and Back. So, after a night out 23 mums from the local national school were conscripted. We just did it for ourselves. We hired a trainer once a week to do an outdoor boot-camp from February until June. She had us climbing over walls, sprinting up and down, hopping over nets and through tyres. It was really intense, I was very fit when we started the training as I would run about three times a week and competed in a few 10k races. I think I’ve gone downhill since then! It was an amazing experience. The day itself was gorgeous, so we weren’t freezing all the way around the course. It started off with warm up but the first obstacle was an ice bath and we had to go under tyres to get out the other side so we were completely soaked from the beginning of the obstacle course. It was really enjoyable though. There were girls in our group who would not have been incredibly fit but they managed perfectly and they tried everything. The hardest thing was carrying a big log up the mountain…that was tough. The mud didn’t bother me — I don’t mind getting dirty! Those things are more amusing and more interesting than just running for a long time. There were a lot of use, so we split into two groups who stayed together. You need to work as a team and help each other out of the mud and over the obstacles. The final obstacle was a ten-foot wall that you have to haul each other over and then you jump off onto bails of hay on the other side. One of the girls took a tumble off the bails of hay and needed to be checked out medically but thankfully she was fine. As soon as we’d finished I was like… I want to do it again! I want to do it again!! Afterwards we had a very basic shower followed by a few bottles of Prosecco! Back home, a quick change then out for dinner. The Kilkerley mothers were all guns blazing after finishing this one. I have a few other challenges on my radar. There’s one in Donegal that is 23km running, cycling and kayaking so I’m looking at that one. I need to get back to training, the summer has not been kind!”
Orlaith Ryan Kilkerley Guild, Louth Federation
“I joined the ICA in 2015 for two reasons, firstly because my mother is in it and has been for some time and she’s always enjoyed it; secondly, I was on maternity leave and I was looking for an outlet, some activities and the crafts were really appealing. Pre-children I’d have been pretty fit. I was in the Cadet School of the Naval Service for a couple of years. I ran the Dublin Marathon in 2006 and I took part in the Geal Force Adventure Race in 2006 and 2007, over a 67km course, and I loved it. My husband is a Captain in the Army and he’d be fairly fit too, he runs triathlons. So we had that in common pre-kids, but since having the children I’ve let it slide. They channel your energy in other directions! So when the opportunity to get back into it with Hell and Back came along I was totally onboard. Another one of mums, Aoibhín, is a fitness trainer and she started the weekly training sessions. They weren’t your typical aerobics classes, that’s for sure! There was no forgiveness with her; we had heavy barrels that we had to push along, massive tyres you had to get from one end of a corridor to the next. She had us sprinting on the tarmac around her house, running up and down steps, doing burpees, hopping over walls — you name it we did it. I was amazed we managed to find 23 like-minded women among the mums and it was a great group. We loved training together and this helped develop an immense sense of camaraderie among the group, as well as challenging us from an extreme sports perspective. The day before the event I’d gone to the hairdresser to have my hair braided into French plaits to keep it under control during the challenge. Then when we were on the bus, it turned out that one of the girls with us was great at doing braids so by the time we got to Wicklow we all had our hair in plaits! We’d also had bright pink tee-shirts made with Kilkerley Ladies emblazoned on the front. You couldn’t miss us. There was a fair mix of nervous anticipation and excitement on the bus from the school to Kilruddery House in Wicklow where the challenge was hosted. The groups go out in waves, so while you’re waiting to start they have good motivational music playing and three guys leading the warm up. By the time it’s your turn, you’re rearing to go. The bit that I found the hardest was the Sniper Alley obstacle. Basically, you’re running up a wooded area around a loop and back down again, all the while there are people shooting at you with pellet guns. When those pellets hit your backside you know all about it. On the other-hand, there was a gigantic water-slide down the side of a hill and that was fantastic, my absolute favourite. We are actually talking about doing a re-run of the Hell and Back next year but we’re looking at a few alternative ones like the Tough Mudders — we’re definitely up for the challenge.”
Eileen Boland Guild: Rathkeevin, Federation: South Tipperary
“I joined the ICA when I was 16 and I’m still an active member who really enjoys drama and singing. I’ve also been Secretary of the local juvenile club for the last 31 years and I’m Culture Officer of the South Tipperary GAA. I also sing in the local church choir so I’m very active. I’ve been sporty since I was a girl, playing Camogie and winning a Munster medal in 1959. The ICA is a wonderful orgnaisation, I went there every Wednesday during my husband’s illness. It frees your mind of all the worries for a few hours. It’s not just about a cup of tea and buns. I don’t go anywhere on my own but with the women in the ICA I have a great social life. I go to music and drama events, out for a meal or on trips. Since my husband died I live alone and I found myself with a lot of time on my hands and I was somewhat lonely initially. So I decided to get out there and start doing things. That’s how in the last ten years I’ve run a lot of marathons, including the Viking Marathon, completed two sky dives, climbed Sleive na Mon and abseiled 100 foot down the stand in Croke Park. That was my first time abseiling and I did it to fundraise for the Irish Motor Neuron Disease Association (IMNDA), because my husband was ill for 17 years with MND before he died in 2003. And thanks to the support of the IMNDA he could be cared for in our home. I did the Viking Marathon in Waterford in 2013 with my friend who was 82 and we did a lap of honour around the football pitch when we finished, with everyone cheering us on! In 2011 I did a sky dive for Crumlin Hospital and in 2013 I sky dived for IMNDA. Skydiving was a new departure for me — I had an awful fear of heights. My motivation was my little grandson who we lost at the age of five following a minor heart operation. Family and friends decided to do the sky dive for Crumlin; that cured me of my fear of heights! The second sky dive was for IMNDA and my best friend, who was 82 at the time, did it with me! I jumped first and she jumped after me. We jumped in tandem, so we had this lovely man on our backs coming down. The worst part was sitting at the door of the plane waiting to jump. That was scary. But once you jump it is absolutely fabulous. Floating out there above the clouds is an amazing sensation. Then you drop below the cloud cover and the view down across the land is incredible. It’s the most beautiful feeling. I had a great experience the last time I did it, me and my man were taken by a gust of wind and carried up and away, floating out over the trees and swept along over a cornfield. I wasn’t worried in the slightest, the two of us were laughing our heads off because we knew were going to land in the cornfield. My friends ask was I scared? I tell them, sure I knew I was going to land in a cornfield with a lovely young man, what more could I want?”
Mary Power Guild: Seven Houses, Federation: Kilkenny
“I started going on these solo trips about 20 years ago. I’m a golf widow, so I thought; ‘well if Christy can play his golf I can do my own thing too.’ The first time I went away somebody said: ‘Isn’t Christy great to let you go.‘— ‘Excuse me,’ I said, ‘rephrase that!’ Those days have gone, thank goodness. The first trip I did was to Nepal I joined a worldwide friendship organisation called Servas and they give you a list of hosts in the country you are travelling to. The host met me at the airport and helped me organise my trip. Since then, I’ve taken the trans-Siberian railway on my own, been to Argentina, Peru, China and so many great places. I only book the flight and then find hostels, which are quite reasonable and friendly. I ended up in a mixed dorm in Argentina and the younger travelers were taking pictures with me to send to their mothers! Fox glacier in New Zealand was extraordinary, we landed on it in a helicopter. The colours were fantastic. I had crampons on my shoes and walking poles for grip and stability on the ice. It was a real adventure. When I was trekking in Venezuela I got to 4000 meters and I thought, the years are catching up on me, so maybe I’ll have a go at Kilimanjaro. My son David came too. We summited on the fourth day. Myself and the sweeper Siad became great buddies and on the last day we were paired up for the assent to the summit. We set off shortly after midnight and we were supposed to reach the summit by sunrise but it took me eight and half hours and I met my son on the way down! But I made it, at my own pace and it was great. The most interesting trip was China, it was a real unknown but utterly fantastic. Also, India is a great place to travel, people are lovely and kind, I find if you are open to people they are open and kind. I went to Zambia where a friend of mine is working in a refugee center and it was a fantastic experience. We taught them crafts, and we stayed in the mission. We used to drive out to different centres and sit on logs and sew. Then I got a bicycle and I’d go out cycling in the evenings. I got the travel bug in 1950 when I was eight, my mum went on a pilgrimage to Rome and I remember dropping her off to St John’s Church in Limerick and that sparked a desire to travel and explore. My children have travelled too. My daughters were in Australia, one son lived in Australia and another spent a year in Alaska and now lives in Spain. It must be genetic! My mum was in the ICA and when I got married in 1965 I joined. I was a craft teacher and judged crafts and did work with transition year students. Now I do a bit of cross-stitch and make my own Christmas cards and things like that. I’m also part of a group called the Wednesday Wasters. We’re all retired so we meet up every Wednesday. I spent my 74th birthday trekking in the Comeraghs and they produced a birthday cake in the pub afterwards. I celebrated my 61st birthday on Mount Fuji and my 49th in the Pyrenees. Here I am 25 years later still trekking! As to what’s next, I’ve had no biggie trip this year and I usually go away for between six and eight weeks so I might do a little trip before the end of the year — I’m deciding between Alaska and Lake Garda. My son is heading off to India in the new year and I might meet up with him in Nepal and head over to Thailand to visit my grandchild while I’m out there. My motto is: What is this life so full of care, if we have no time to stand and stare?
Carmel Cahill Murphy Athgarvan Guild, Kildare Federation
“I started in July 2015 in Fit for Life with Newbridge Athletic Club. I’d been thinking of joining for a few months, it was the Couch to 5k programme. My knees were giving me trouble, I weighed 19 stone and I had three young kids. So, I went back to Unislim, joined Fit for Life — now I’m three and a half stone lighter and I have just run my first half marathon in Dublin. My first run was a 5k in August and then I did another 5k to raise fund’s for Chantal Tynan, who has a rare form of cancer so she needs to get treatment in Texas. Then I moved up to 10k and did the Gingerbread Run in November 2015 and I’m doing that again this year. Some of the girls were talking about doing the SSE Airtricity Race Series, a 5k, 10k, 10 mile, half marathon and a full marathon! I heard that there would be special medals in 2016 so I signed up for the series — not that I’m competitive, I run at my own pace! I suffered from depression for years and I have to say running definitely helps clear the head. Life can be tough sometimes. Fitness and family health history were my two motivating factors. I lost both of my parents in 2010; my dad to stroke and my mam to a heart attack. I also separated from my husband the same year. So it made me think about my own health and wellbeing. With Fit For Life we meet up on a Wednesday and a Friday and it’s on the running track in Newbridge. We start with a warm up and then we follow the C25k programme. When you’ve completed that they book you in for your first 5k race. After that we progress to road running around the town and you’re on track to the half marathon and building to the full marathon. The great thing about this is that I grew up in Newbridge but I’ve been living in a village outside the town for a good while now. Going back to the athletic club put me back in touch with people I hadn’t seen in years, it really helped me reconnect and gave me a much stronger sense of belonging. The support the other girls in the club give you is fantastic, no matter how far behind you are finishing, they’re there to cheer you on. My three kids keep me busy too. They’re into Gaelic, Taekwon-Do, Scouts and Order of Malta. None of them are into running, yet. I joined the Athgarvan Guild when it was formed two years ago. The crafts and the chance to meet new people is great. I want to get involved in the fitness aspect of it too and do more in that area. Our guild also went to Electric Picnic this year too! It was amazing I’ve never been away anywhere foreign, never been to a festival, never been anywhere! Annie Morris suggested it and I said, “Just count me in and I’ll find a way”. So I got someone to mind the children and off I went. We went as part of Global Green and did Yarn Bombing with the ICA. It was my first festival and the first time I had camped. There were three of us in the tent together. It was just fantastic. I had the best time of my life. Meeting new people, feeling good in yourself and winning medals. It’s all good.”