Nuala Moore: Becoming an ice queen

Ice swimmer Nuala Moore is in the running to be crowned world open water swimming woman of the year – but her greatest victories are won inside her own head, the Dingle woman tells Gary Quinn

Mon, Jun 2, 2014, 10:30

“With the ice you’re brought down to the edge of needing help. You bring yourself to this point and life brings you to this point. It’s a manipulation game,” she says.

She returned to the source: visiting the fish factory in Dingle, she plunged into buckets of ice and retrained.

Bolstered, she took up an invitation to Murmansk inside the Arctic Circle and fought to claim that 1,000 frozen metres and join the five other women in the world to have achieved it – from the UK, US, Russia and now Ireland.

She loves Russia, for its dedication to her sport, but also the people, their professionalism and quiet pursuit of achievement. She recently returned from another world first when she joined an international relay team of 96 people from 17 countries who swam the Bering Strait, from Russia to the US. It’s a swim of 86km in the Pacific, a body of water that drives a colossal current along its 8,500km length and 3,000km depth.

The sea is dark and cold. Its waves swell like mountains above the swimmers and the huge white hospital boat the Russian military has provided fades to nothing in the fog. Small ribs dot the water, carrying soldiers trying to keep swimmers in sight.

There are separation issues to contend with, the trailing waves that threaten to flood the small boats and temperatures as low as 2.9 degrees.

They can manage only 10-15 minutes in the water at a time.

It takes six days to reach Alaska and when they do so, this international band of pioneers walks onto the beach with all their flags flying, the Tricolour held as proudly as all the rest.

I want to understand how hard it is for the swimmers, to benchmark it against something I can measure, so I ask “is it a bit like climbing Everest?”

“Yes, I guess it is,” she says, “if you don’t have oxygen, the Sherpa’s desert you and you leave your tent at home. It’s the world stripped back, as raw as you ever could be.”

Recognition is hard-won in a sport such as this, so being nominated as world swimmer counts.

“When I was young to the world of adventure,” she says, “it frustrated me that the world wasn’t watching, that people didn’t think I was brilliant. But now my motivation is so much more. I’m free to succeed. When you get out of the water you’re brought home. There are no medals. No round of applause. The ice brings you to a place that makes you very humble.”

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