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Now is the winter of my dips content: June Curtin at Spanish Point beach. Photograph by John Kelly

June spreads ocean of love and raises over €55k for charity

IN the final weeks of the year leaving the house can be an ordeal, not to mention getting into the Atlantic on a wet or cold winter’s morning or afternoon, but June Curtin was there time after time, day after day.

And this week, thanks to those efforts, she was able to present a cheque for €55,782 to the Mid West Simon Community, funds raised from supporters of her regimen of swimming three times a day for three weeks of December.

“Doing it seven days a week is one thing, but three times a day is very challenging, I have to say, mentally and physically,” June told The Clare Champion.

“This year, towards the end of it, I was absolutely exhausted, I have two children at home, I’m trying to run a house, and I work at home through Snámhaí Sásta doing talks and things, so I was juggling a mountain of stuff.”

She also did it in 2020 and at that stage didn’t know what she was getting into.

“The first year I did it I didn’t really think it through properly. I decided that I wanted to give something back, I do a lot with Pieta House and with the group that swim with me I thought it’d be nice to work with another charity along with Pieta.”

“I’m a bit passionate about the homeless and the less fortunate so I decided I’d swim three times a day and I thought I live so near the sea, it’s no big deal at 9.15, 1.15 and 4.15 every day.

“But I probably didn’t think it through, the logistics of it, keeping swim suits dry, keeping my little booties that I wear into the water dry, it takes up your whole day literally. There’s no time to do anything in between.”

Sea swimming in the Atlantic during December is a decidedly niche activity, one that won’t appeal to most people.

June got a lot of support, however, and there was hardly a day that she was on her own, with the community appreciating her efforts and many people getting down to the beach with her when they had the chance.

Overall, for the 63 swims, she thinks there may have been just two when she was on her own. and a certain Tony Henchy from Doonbeg provided a lot of support.

“At the start of it he said to me ‘June, which swim do you think will be the quietest for you, where you might like the support and I’ll come to that one’.

“I said often the last of the day can be the hardest, at 4.15. He said I’ll be there for almost all of them, there’s only one day when I won’t be able to join you, because I’ll be having my NCT. Every day when I drove down to the beach I was guaranteed that Tony would be there to join me.”

The fundraising is sort of an outgrowth from the Snámhaí Sásta, the year-round sea swimming group which June has got going in Spanish Point.

June lost her husband to suicide a number of years ago and Snámhaí Sásta is designed to help people with their mental health.

“For those five or ten minutes in the morning you leave your troubles on the shore line and the only thing you can think about are the waves coming at you that very minute and surviving the waves!”

She feels that being in the sea offers great benefits, and she feels them herself every morning when she has her daily swim.

“There’s great healing in the sea, I say that all the time to people. If you go into the water feeling great you’ll come out feeling even better. If you go in feeling not so good you’ll come out feeling better.

“Some days like today it was very wet. Some days it’s harder than others to get in. I drive down to the beach and I’m sitting in my warm car with the heated seat on and I’m looking out and it’s absolutely miserable. It’s wet, it’s cold and you’re feeling a bit sluggish.

“I always have to remind myself of how I feel when I come out because I never regret it. No matter what the weather, I think you never regret a swim. I find it’s great for my mental health, I find I struggle with anxiety and stress-related issues and I find the sea is great for me.”

When she spoke to the Clare Champion last Friday morning she was just back from swimming with 15 people on a bleak January morning, with some of them having travelled from Limerick to join in, showing how Snámhaí Sásta has struck a chord with people far from Spanish Point.

“There’s that old saying that a day without laughter is a day wasted and there isn’t a day that we don’t laugh down there.

“The camaraderie is infectious and now people come from all over Ireland in the summer time for a swim. It’s great that it’s helping so many people. I said when I started out if I could make a difference in one person’s life my job would be done, but it’s helping so many people.”

Ironically, given that she has got so many people to embrace sea swimming, June still can’t swim very well herself.

“The funny thing is I can’t swim, I’m in the middle of lessons at the moment. I’m learning. In my busiest morning last August I had David and Stephen Flynn from the Happy Pear, who joined me for a swim.

“There were about 1,400 people on the beach that morning at 9am, and I must have been the only person down there who couldn’t swim!”

But Snámhaí Sásta isn’t really about swimming anyway – “It’s about community, it’s much more than a swim really, it’s about bringing people together.”

Having come through very hard times herself, she says she is conscious that not everyone has the same level of support as her family gave her, and she recognises the importance of what Mid-West Simon offer.

“So many people are going through hard times for all kinds of reasons, sometimes through no fault of their own. They might lose their home through a job loss or a bereavement.

“I was lucky that I had great support with my family when I lost my own husband or my situation could have been very different, if I didn’t have the support of my mother, my brother John in the Armada and my sister in Ennis, they were phenomenal during a very difficult time in my life.

“I know what it’s like to go through hard times and I always wanted to give something back I suppose. When you go through a tragedy like I did, it makes you appreciate life a lot more. It makes you hugely conscious of gratitude and I’m very grateful for all the things I do have in my life and I try not to think too much about what I don’t have.”

“Life is for living and if you can help someone, do it. You might be the only person that does, you might be the only person that might make a difference to someone in their day.”

Having been bereaved by suicide herself, sometimes people look to talk to her about their own losses.

“I was in Miltown the other morning getting a coffee in An Bácús and when I came out there was lady standing at my car waiting to have a chat with me.

“She had lost her son to suicide ten years ago and she was feeling very low and she just needed a chat. Although I’m not a trained counsellor I think it’s nice to be able to offer a listening ear without any judgement.”

It was 2013 when June’s husband died, and even now she says the loss is still raw and painful. “As I said to her (the woman in Miltown) sometimes you just have to keep going. You have to get up every morning and put one foot in front of the other.

“Sometimes one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time and sometimes one minute at a time.”

The daily swims have been important to her, and it is hugely to her credit that she set up Snámhaí Sásta to bring the benefits to other people, before going even further and raising funds for Mid West Simon.

“Last year I set myself a target of €10,000 and I raised almost €15,000, I think.

“This year I decided I’d up the ante and I set myself a target of €50,000. They all thought I was crazy, but I said go big or go home! That’s a statement my sister says all the time and I was quoting her! Anything I reached above €15,000 I’d have been delighted with, but I have a great community behind me, I’ve 25,000 followers on Instagram and many of them got behind me.”

Maura McMahon of the Mid-West Simon Community said the fundraising is a huge boost.

“We’re absolutely delighted, it’s a huge amount of money for one person, one fundraiser, it’s absolutely fantastic. To swim three times a day, you need some stamina to do that!”

The funding will be used to help people get back into the workforce, thereby helping them move on from homelessness.

“It’s going to be used for an activation manager. They’ll help clients and residents prepare for interviews. Help them buy clothes for interviews, with CV preparation, anything with reintroducing people to the workplace.

“It’ll make a huge difference, it’s a service we don’t have at the moment in any of our accommodations.”

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.