Former rugby star is in line to retain the open water swimmer of year title she won in 2019, writes Dan Danaher
A KILLALOE sportswoman continues to glide on a crest of a wave in competitive open water swimming.
Rosie Foley is nominated in the Padraic Casey Open Water Swimming of the Year category, which she won the last time it was run in 2019.
The St Anne’s Community College teacher was put forward by her peers in the open water community.
The results will be announced on Saturday, November 27, at a ceremony in Galway.
“It is a huge honour to be nominated. You never set out on a path for anything. I went back into the pool after my daughter, Siofra, was nine months old. I joined Limerick Master Swimming Club, having never swam competitively.
“I have made great friends in the Limerick Master Swimming Club, which pulls you along.
“By meeting people and asking people if any swam in open water I ended up fulfilling a dream through asking the question.
“People have different goals. It can be walking the five kilometre Park Run in Clarisford and then jog or run it a few weeks later,” Rosie explained.
A few years ago, Rosie won performance of the year in the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association for swimming the full length of Lough Derg.
The 48-year-old recently won the Shannon Regional Swimming League, having come to the fore with about three weeks remaining in the competition.
Participants are given a set distance to complete within the week and submit the time it took to complete particular swims.
The organisers also factor in a handicap for all participants based on a recorded 400 metre swim time that was previously submitted at the start of the year.
Out of 12 swims that are completed during the summer, the best ten times are taken, which decides the placings.
It is expected that next year times will be recorded when swimmers participants in events such as the Thomond Swim.
It was very close in the end, with Rosie winning by just a single point ahead of her closest rival. In the region of 50 swimmers competed from the Mid-West.
“It was a real surprise for me. In the past, people have got into the top three with about three weeks to go but then end up somewhere down in the middle.
“I was still close to the top with about a week to go. Between one of the organisers being surprised and me being surprised, I said ‘you have to be kidding me’.
“It was great fun. There was plenty of banter with everyone watching everyone else.”
Last October, in the midst of Covid-19 restrictions, Rosie decided to swim in the lake without a wetsuit during November.
She continued throughout December including Christmas Day as part of a Boru Tri Club 12 swims/runs to raise money to complete the Derg AC track in Clarisford Park, Killaloe.
On January 31, she swam 1,609 metres in Ballycuggeran when the temperatures were just 4.6 degrees Celsius as part of an “Ice Mile” challenge in less than 35 minutes.
It was videoed from start to finish with safety boat on the side and Donnacha McGeever acting as lifeguard as well as two independent observers. This ensured she is now a certified member of the International Ice Swimming Association.
Having completed three months daily open water swimming without a wetsuit, she continued month by month and will complete a full year on November 1.
With a hearty laugh, she jokes this is “totally mad”, before adding this was something she could control during a pandemic.
“I really love it. You might feel some days when you come out to Ballycuggeran ‘what I am doing here’. However, I have never regretted having a dip or a swim ever. It is really enjoyable being out in a wonderful environment.
“The more people that get out and see ‘lunatics” like me, they might be encouraged to do it too.”
She believes a person’s body acclimatises and adjusts by producing more brown fat to protect vital organs when a person is open water swimming for a long period.
Following in the footsteps of her father, Brendan and late brother, Anthony, Rosie won 39 caps for the Irish women’s rugby team from 2001 to 2006, playing in two Rugby World Cups during this period. She also captained the Munster and UL women’s teams, and was a founding member of the UL side.
This achievement was rewarded in 2018 when the PE and Geography teacher at St Anne’s Community College was inducted into the UL Sports Hall of Fame.
She was also part of the Clare Ladies Football team, which claimed the All-Ireland Junior title in 1996.
Throughout her rugby career, Rosie used swimming as part of recovery, and feels the mental strength she gained from tough battles during close international, inter-provincial and club rugby games helped her to complete significant achievements in long distance swimming.
“Sport and rugby in particular makes you stronger mentally in the sense you know you can do it. In rugby, you have teammates and coaches who help you along the way.
“I remember one of my teammates saying I wouldn’t pick you on the team. This made me all the more determined to make her pick me one day.
“I prefer people to be straight with me. The brain is very powerful. If you feed your brain the right information, ‘yes I can do this, yes these are my teammates, I know where I come from, I am wearing this jersey and want to leave it in a better place’.”
Celebrating her 49th birthday at the end of the month, she has no plans to give up any of her current activities as she heads towards 50.
“Everyone doesn’t reach the age of 50, 60 or 70. Anthony didn’t get there. When it comes to age, I just tell people get out there and enjoy it (swimming).”
The importance of volunteering and helping others in terms of coaching is something that was emphasised in the Foley household.
When her father, Brendan, was about 12, a volunteer introduced him to St Mary’s Rugby Club in Limerick, which kickstarted a great rugby career.
“We have plenty of fantastic volunteers that need more recognition. Sometimes it is the quiet word that someone says that makes a difference. None of us are perfect and we are not everyone’s cup of tea, but nobody is.
“This isn’t a dress rehearsal. Brendan used always say when we are playing matches – ‘don’t ever assume you will be playing the next day’. In hindsight, it was great advice, because you were never cocky when you were playing.
“When I was playing for Shannon, Munster or Ireland, that could be your last game so what way would you like it to be.
“When I was playing I would meet people in the pub or the shop. If I didn’t play well or we lost the match, they would fairly tell you about it. You can’t underestimate that.”
If Anthony was alive now what would he say to you about coming out and jumping into cold water early in the morning?
“You absolute lunatic, you were always the same, Rosie, you were never anything different. He would say who are bringing the lads to school or where is the match on today?
“Anthony is very much with us in terms of his presence. You see it in his fabulous boys, Dan and Tony, his lovely wife, Olive, and my parents.
“Sometimes, I talk to him and say ‘what the hell are you doing’.
When Rosie went to University of Limerick to study PE at the age of 23, professionalism in rugby had just started.
She got great support and coaching from Anthony, Paul O’Connell, John Hayes and numerous Munster rugby players on how to scrummage properly as well as other rugby techniques.
Anthony would regularly attend Munster Ladies Rugby training sessions to lend a helping hand.
When the Munster Ladies team used to play in Thomond Park some of their male counterparts would support them on the sidelines.
“Actions speak a lot louder than words. We could do a bit more of this crossover. This builds a better culture.”
She is now president of Ballina-Killaloe RFC, having succeeded her father Brendan, now junior vice-president of the Munster branch and due to become its president in three years’ time
Her first dip into long distance swimming was in 2011 when she swam from Deer Rock to Killaloe, a distance of six kilometres. On July 26 in 2014, just weeks after swimming the length of Lough Derg, she swam the English Channel solo.
Her husband, Pat Minogue and friend Fionnuala Walsh, who completed her own Channel swim in 2012, acted as her support team in a boat named Optimistic manned by Paul Foreman.
This gruelling swim lasted 15 hours and 53 minutes before she reached a French beach.
Growing up in Killaloe as a young girl, learning to swim was one of the expected rites of passage with Lough Derg on her doorstep.
Having watched watched the black and white movie of Gertrude Ederle swimming the English Channel, it was always at the back of her mind that some day she would complete this challenge.
by Dan Danaher