Belfast Telegraph

Co Down Duo's 100-day challenge goes swimmingly

Helen's Bay sea lovers' daily dips set a new record

Rob Brown and Gillian Armstrong
Rob Brown and Gillian Armstrong
Rob Brown and Gillian Armstrong and fellow swimmers helping them celebrate their 100-day challenge

By Christopher Leebody

A group of sea swimmers are celebrating a landmark achievement after two of the group's members completed a 100-day swimming challenge.

Gillian Armstrong and Rob Brown, who swam once every day over 100 days, are part of the Helen's Baywatch group.

The group is named after their local Helen's Bay community and was set up by Gillian and her sister Helen in April last year.

The Co Down swimming enthusiasts meet once a week on Sunday morning, with the community having grown from around three or four core members to now more than 40.

It includes the very young on paddle boards to those in their 70s and 80s - with the unofficial motto of the group being 'Community and Confidence'.

The committed pair started their challenge on April 8 this year and completed their 100th swim on Tuesday night alongside more than 20 friends in the group.

Speaking about her motivation for setting up the group and committing to the challenge, Gillian's sister and co-founder of the community, Helen, said: "We grew up near the north coast and would have been active in the surfing community.

"When she moved down, Gillian was surprised how little the sea was used in Helen's Bay."

She added: "She has been suffering from migraines and read an article about a lady in Wales who did the 100-day challenge.

"She just saw the benefits of swimming once a week, so she may as well apply that to everyday life.

"You get a lot of people who swim daily, there is a community of older people.

"Coming into summer it has been a lot easier, but she started in April so it has been quite tough in the shorter days.

"It really helps her having Rob with her and quite a few ladies who came to swim alongside."

There is no set distance to each day's swim, with the group using a buoy "a couple of hundred metres out" as the landmark for which to aim.

"A lot about it is the physical challenge, especially in winter going into the cold water. You get a real buzz. It's just a lot of fun," said Helen.

"In the past few days we have been in Scotland so we were swimming in loughs and rivers. It helps to ground you a bit more."

Wendy Brown is a member of the Helen's Baywatch group. Speaking about the benefits of swimming in the ocean, she described the "physical and mental wellbeing" it brings.

"Being at one with nature has so many benefits, physically being active and exercising so many parts of your body. Mentally it is so calming and relaxing," she said.

To celebrate the completion of Gillian and Rob's challenge, the group held a barbecue on the beach with a few glasses of bubbly for the pair to enjoy, marking the achievement.

However, according to Helen, her sister Gillian has her mind already set on the next target.

She explained: "The next challenge she is thinking of is swimming from Brompton on this side of Bangor to Helen's Bay.

"She wants to see if she can do this without a wetsuit."

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