Ned Denison is very much the rotational centre of the Sandycove group, and like a really big jellyfish, he has tentacles reaching out all over the world. To best describe Ned’s place, I’m reminded on an explanation by Mick Hurley, husband of English Channel Soloist and four-time Rottnest soloist and Magnificent 7 swimmer Jen Hurley. We were having dinner in Dover, Mick holding forth to the table (as usual), and we were talking about the Sandycove group.
Mick said that Sandycove was, de facto, a great place. For years, you’d have Irish people swimming there, everyone would be friendly and sociable, and would then go on their separate ways. But take just one American and drop him in the middle of it and almost before you know it, you have one of the most successful English Channel swimming locations in the world, you have organisation and success. Ned is the giant ball of glue from which the Sandycove island group grew.
He is an International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Inductee, also a committee Member for Santa Barbara Channel Swim Association, Manhattan, the Lee swim, and In Search of Memphre, amongst other things, not the least of which is his long list of swims, from English Channel and Santa Barbara Channel Solos, to Jersey France, Robben island, Rottnest, Round Valentia and Cobh islands (first time swims). He is the main force behind the internationally growing in reputation Cork Distance week, which if you want to tackle the English Channel from warmer climes, is the best week’s training in the world. For those who know him, he is also persistently confused by the difference between an email subject line and the body of an email text. It’s not unusual to get an entire paragraph in the subject line.
This picture below is appropriate, it’s Ned doing the 2008 Irish Champion of Champion safety briefing. There are a bunch of Channel Soloists and future Soloists here, (Finbarr, Ossi, Ciarán, myself, Sylvain, Niall, Lisa) and including Kevin Murphy, listening. This is how we are used to seeing Ned.
Ned’s post here is sure to raise significant discussion in the worldwide swimming community. Make time to read and consider it. It’s important.
Open water swimming is exploding with a massive increase in events together with swimmer interest and participation.
Fantastic – however behind the scenes, the inadequate numbers of volunteers places our growth future in jeopardy.
My biggest hope for the future of open water swimming involves a shift as WE SWIMMERS NEED TO START VOLUNTEERING IN LARGE NUMBERS.
“But Ned you don’t understand – I am involved in the sport to swim and have fun with my mates. I didn’t get involved to kayak, take times, crew a safety boat or spend hours before the event finding boats/kayakers and taking registrations. Anyways – surely the €10 to €50 I pay for each swim must cover all the costs? I assume that all the worker bees were getting paid big bucks to support my passion.”
There are a few commercial events out there – but 99% of all the open water events in the world are staffed by volunteers – typically raising money for a charity or doing a civic duty or just helping their friends and relatives. They not only don’t get paid and they are generally out-of-pocket for travel expenses, food and often overnight lodging and boat fuel.
I like to make the example of a swimmer who just completed an English Channel solo swim.
First of all – well done!
Now consider how many volunteer hours YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF to reach your goal? The phrase “took advantage of” is a horrible expression but bear with me for a moment.
Here is a possible tally of the time others gave along the way:
9 days in Dover (start counting from the moment your 3 crew members left home to their return)
9 days*24 (hours/day) *3 crew = 648 person hours
“But Ned, this isn’t fair! Part of this time they were sleeping, sight-seeing, eating the fish and chips I bought and sunning on the beach while I practiced a bit.”
Do you really want to go down that line? They were away from their families, Dover isn’t a holiday destination and I haven’t calculated their lost earnings while they were off work!
The “official observer” for the Channel swim – yes they are paid a small stipend but the 15 hours you swam with another 5 hours of travel was hardly a “paid” activity.
=20 person hours.
Your 6 hour channel qualification next to a boat with 2 volunteers
2*10 (6 hours plus travel time) = 20 person hours
Your 15k race (you had a full-time kayaker plus 1/5th of a 2 person safety boat crew and 1/20th of the 10 event volunteers on the day plus the 100 hours it took before the event to get it all organised
1*8 (5 hours plus travel time) + (2 crew *8 hours)/5 + (10 volunteers*8 hour +100 hours)/20 = 20 person hours
Your 5k races (let’s assume you had 10 in the previous 3 years) where you have 1/20th of a 2 person safety boat crew and the 10 event volunteers on the day plus the 135 hours it took before the event to get it all organised.
10 events * ( (2 crew*4 hours)/20 + (10 volunteers*4 hours+135 hours)/20 swimmers) =
92 person hours
Grand total 800 person hours – or think of it as 100 person days (8 hours a day)
Hang on then because this is just the start – or all at the small end of the total.
I didn’t count your swimming buddies who took turns to swim (at your speed) for the previous two years. Having done a few 7am Sunday support swims myself, I can assure that they count as “volunteer hours”!
I also only counted the swimming related volunteer time – so your partner who covered 18 months of extra duties at home and with the kids – you need to work that one out yourself.
YOU CHANNEL SOLOERS OWE 100 PERSON DAYS (8 HOURS A DAY)
For those swimmers who ONLY take part on 15 events a year and do not do the marathon swims…you still owe!
Your 2k races where you have 1/20th of a 2 person safety boat crew and the 5 event volunteers on the day plus the 80 hours it took before the event to get it all organised
15 events* ( (2 crew*4 hours)/20 + (5 volunteers*4 hours)/80 swimmers + 80 hours/80 swimmers) = 24 person hours (3 person days at 8 hour/day)
YOU CASUAL 2K SWIMMERS OWE 3 PERSON DAYS (8 HOURS A DAY) – EACH YEAR
The numbers don’t lie. The logic is correct.
We swimmers know, deep down, that lots of people are involved so we can have our event.
For the vast majority of the swimmers – YOU ARE NOT PAYING BACK AT ANYTHING LIKE THE LEVEL YOU NEED TO MAKE IT BALANCE.
I am just back from the Rottnest swim – and even deeper in the hole myself.
Jennifer (Hurley) helped the local organisation, and her family collect me at the airport etc. (ok they are friends – but still takes time) = 40 person hours
Clive (kayaker) paddled in 2 training swims and discussed the plan over coffee = 8 person hours
Clive then drove 2 hours to get to the location, stayed overnight, launched at 4:45am and paddled 5.5 hours (now let’s forget the time to have a pint!) then travelled back on the ferry to get home = 12 person hours
Mike piloted the boat and Barb joined me in a training swim and then crewed = 30 person hours
Then finally the Rottnest team of 100 strong put in (at a guess and probably low) 10,000 organisation hours – thankfully I can divide this by the 2,500 swimmers! = 4 person hour
So – another 94 person hours I have to pay back. This gets added to the debt from the previous 30 long swims and 200+ short swims….at 54 years of age I am not sure I have enough time left!
So, my call to action is to change the dynamic.
- Accept the principal that YOU OWE
- Start volunteering. Miss one swim in 10 to help.
- Learn to kayak. Borrow your brother’s boat.
- Sandycove Swimmers – Pressure to achieve (loneswimmer.com)
- The Sandycove Swimmers Annual Achievement List released – a must-read (loneswimmer.com)
- Ned’s email qualification list (loneswimmer.com)
- Ned’s Santa Barbara swim report. (unforgettableswims.com)
- Ned’s guest post of Channel Advice on Markswims (from whence I stole the pic, markswims.com)
- Ned on Openwaterpedia.com