Meagan Cuddihy: Open water swim makes a splash


5 a.m. swim practices keep Hintonburg mom of two afloat
5 a.m. swim practices keep Hintonburg mom of two afloat. Photo by Rebeca Peng.

On the morning of July 13th, 500 people jumped into the Ottawa River. And not just for a dip. The swimmers dove in at the Nepean Sailing Club and returned to shore, 3 kilometers later, at the Britannia Yacht Club. The Bushtukah Bring on the Bay 3K Open Swim is Eastern Canada’s largest open water swim event.

Meagan Cuddihy of Hintonburg participated for the first time this year, after joining Swim Ottawa’s Masters’ program at the Soloway JCC in September 2012.

Dedicating three early mornings a week to the 5 am program did more than just help her maintain her sanity with two young children. The technical lessons and timed swims also helped her prepare for Bring on the Bay, an event for which Cuddihy only has glowing praise. “It’s so well organized. I was intimidated at first – by the distance and the fact that it’s in the middle of the river. But here’s a real team atmosphere. You’re not by yourself. Some people are there to see how fast they can swim, some people are there just because it’s a good cause and some people are there just to see if they can do it.”

The cause is Easter Seals Ontario, a charity supporting children with physical disabilities across Ontario. “We have family friends who have a girl who’s been helped by them. It’s nice to be able to think of her when I’m doing this,” Cuddihy says. She thinks the charity is a fitting match as well, given that swimming can be adapted to all sorts of physical abilities. “It’s very accessible and easier on the body that some other sports are.”

The accessibility brought out a wash of diversity from teenagers to seniors on race day. The spectrum of ability was just as broad, ranging from people who swim once a year to former Olympic athletes. “Swimming is a lifelong sport,” Cuddihy explains. “Not everyone is Michael Phelps, but that’s not the point.”

For Cuddihy, the biggest challenge to overcome in the open water swim wasn’t the distance, but fear: “Open water swimming is really different from swimming in a pool,” she says. “You can’t see the bottom, you’re swimming around a lot of people, and the water is kind of choppy. For the first 500 metres, you’re getting your breathing steady, getting into a routine, and talking yourself down to say ‘Okay, I can do this’.”

After that, says Cuddihy, your training kicks in. “And then you think about all the technique stuff you’ve practiced. How’s my breathing? Am I keeping my balance? Am I doing the right things with my arms?””

“What I loved about this event,” she continues, “is that there was a sailboat every 200 metres and so you had the boats on one side with people cheering on the deck and the flotilla of kayaks and boaters there for rescue and support on the other side. Then you had all the swimmers around you and the sun was shining.”

Cuddihy came into the swim with a single goal: to finish in less than an hour. Not only did she finish with a time of 55:39, but she came sixth in her division.

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