Belfast Telegraph

Irish swimmers on the crest of a wave after breaking North Channel record

Rachael Lee, Tom Healy and Ronan Joyce who have set a new world record
Rachael Lee, Tom Healy and Ronan Joyce who have set a new world record

By Evie Kearney

Three Irish swimmers have broken the world record for the fastest relay swim across the North Channel.

Married couple Rachael Lee and Tom Healy along with Ronan Joyce, known as ‘Ocean Breakers’, beat the previous record by 38 minutes.

The amateur swimmers became the world’s fastest one-way, three-person-relay team to swim the North Channel from Donaghadee, Co Down to Portpatrick in Scotland by completing the 34.5km swim in nine hours and 20 minutes.

The previous record was set in 2012 when US relay team ‘The Machine Men’ finished the course in 10 hours and 18 minutes.

Full-time firefighter Rachael Lee, who also holds the record for the fastest Irish person ever to swim the English Channel solo, described the open water swim as “a whole different ball game” for the seasoned trio. 

“[It] took us to the absolute brink of our capabilities, both mentally and physically,” she said. Rachael’s teammate, husband and fellow firefighter Tom Healy, said they went for the record as a relay team because it is an “unbelievably dangerous” feat. While the group are all well-known in the amateur sea swimming world, they do not swim professionally. Rachael and Tom are full-time firefighters from Malahide while Ronan is an IT professional from Ratoath.

The three amateurs took the swim in turns, each swimming for one hour in repeat cycles and had three paramedics on their crew in case they needed medical assistance while swimming through hugely dense congregations of toxic Lion’s Mane jellyfish.

The group were motivated to attempt the world record in an effort to raise awareness of sea pollution. Rachael said Ireland has a “brilliant waste infrastructure” which needs to be used properly.

“Plastic is an important part of all our lives and all we need to do is to put our waste in the proper bins so it can get disposed of and recycled in the right way,” she said.

Speaking afterwards Tom said: “Even by our standards it was unbelievably dangerous endurance swimming at the very edge of human limits which is why we did it as a relay team — no matter how hard it got, there was absolutely no way any of us were going give up on each other because we were in it together come hell or high water.”

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