Surf’s up: Ir­ish life­savers hop­ing to catch the medals

Ire­land’s team at the World Surf Life­sav­ing Cham­pi­onships in Aus­tralia – which be­gins later this week – are de­ter­mined to do well

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health Fitness - Ar­lene Har­ris

Like most peo­ple her age, 21-year-old Lily Bar­rett is busy with col­lege, fam­ily, friends and plan­ning her fu­ture. But, in be­tween study and so­cial life, the Clare woman also swims twice a day and fits in some run­ning and gym train­ing – the rea­son for this hec­tic sched­ule is be­cause from No­vem­ber 16th, she, along with six oth­ers, will rep­re­sent Ire­land at the World Surf Life­sav­ing Cham­pi­onships in Aus­tralia.

The sport, which is un­doubt­edly ex­tremely tough, is also an es­sen­tial life skill and, be­cause of our less-than-trop­i­cal cli­mate, Ir­ish par­tic­i­pants al­ways do well in com­pe­ti­tions. Last Septem­ber, the na­tional ju­nior surf life­sav­ing team took home 44 medals (20 gold, 16 sil­ver and eight bronze) at the Eu­ro­pean cham­pi­onships, which were held at venues in Clare and Lim­er­ick.

“Liv­ing on the west coast of Ire­land, our train­ing is al­ways tough,” says Bar­rett, who has been com­pet­ing since she was 15. “We don’t have great weather con­di­tions but we al­ways have to adapt whether the sun is shin­ing or it’s lash­ing rain and re­ally windy – we train re­ally hard and this teaches us to be men­tally tough and able for any­thing which is of course vi­tal in this dis­ci­pline and I am lucky enough to be from Clare as our train­ers are great so we’ve al­ways done very well.

“Even though train­ing for the cham­pi­onships is only for a few months, we all swim through­out the year in or­der to keep our­selves in top shape and also have to be very aware of diet, nu­tri­tion and get­ting enough sleep – it’s a very dynamic sport and very hard work but I ab­so­lutely love it, par­tic­u­larly as it is also a means of sav­ing lives.”

In­ter­na­tional ref­eree Clare McGrath agrees and says the event is a vi­tal skill which en­com­passes so many dif­fer­ent ac­tiv­i­ties. “The sport of surf life­sav­ing ex­ists to en­cour­age life savers to main­tain the skills, drills and phys­i­cal fit­ness re­quired for per­form­ing their life­sav­ing du­ties,” she says.


“It is truly multi-dis­ci­plined and takes place in the pool, the beach and in the ocean. It has close ties to swim­ming, ath­let­ics, kayak­ing, row­ing, surf­ing and power boat­ing and is based on the equip­ment and skills which life­guards use to per­form life­sav­ing res­cues.

“The ath­letes train all year round but dur­ing the win­ter months, most is done in the pool with around five to six ses­sions ev­ery week. From Easter on – once the sea tem­per­a­ture im­proves – they in­clude three to four ses­sions out­doors while dur­ing June, July and Au­gust, they train six days weekly on the ocean, two-hour ses­sions, mostly in the morn­ing be­cause many work on the beaches as life­guards.”

In­deed, Lily Bar­rett has grown up with the sport and sees it al­most as an ex­ten­sion of her­self. “We have a mo­bile home on White Strand so grow­ing up my broth­ers and I were al­ways in the sea,” says Bar­rett, whose three sib­lings – Dy­lan (25), Tur­lough (18) and Cal­lum (15) – are also heav­ily in­volved in the sport and have com­peted at both na­tional and in­ter­na­tional lev­els.

“The surf life­sav­ing club was go­ing on out­side our door, so we got in­volved and loved it from the be­gin­ning. When my older brother started, it was a fairly new sport so there wasn’t even the proper equip­ment but over the years it has grown and I guess we have grown with it.

“I re­ally love the chal­lenge – ev­ery day brings some­thing dif­fer­ent as the weather, the waves and the en­vi­ron­ment are con­stantly chang­ing and at com­pe­ti­tion level, there are lots of very dif­fer­ent events so it’s al­ways re­ally stim­u­lat­ing. It’s great fun, a fan­tas­tic way to stay fit, is hugely ben­e­fi­cial in terms of ac­tu­ally sav­ing a life and I have made so many life­long friends.”

The Clare woman has won many na­tional and in­ter­na­tional awards over the years and phys­io­ther­a­pist Emma Sheehy says keep­ing in shape and learn­ing how to avoid in­jury is an es­sen­tial skill for all the com­peti­tors at the up­com­ing event.

“Surf life­sav­ing is a very phys­i­cally and men­tally de­mand­ing sport and be­cause there is such a va­ri­ety of events there is a spe­cific level of strength and aer­o­bic fit­ness re­quired for each one,” she says. “In­jury pre­ven­tion is a huge topic of de­bate at the mo­ment and given the na­ture of the sport, a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of in­juries is un­avoid­able and linked to col­li­sions be­tween com­peti­tors or en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors.

“But aside from con­tu­sions and bruises, the main in­juries I have seen when treat­ing the ath­letes are an­kle sprains, ro­ta­tor cuff strains and menis­cal in­juries of the knee.”

The ex­pe­ri­enced phys­io­ther­a­pist, who also trained and com­peted in the sport, says there are on­go­ing de­ci­sions sur­round­ing el­e­ments of train­ing and com­pe­ti­tions which can be ad­dressed.

‘Link to in­juries’

“The ar­eas which have sig­nif­i­cant ev­i­dence re­gard­ing their link to in­juries are inad­e­quate and un­spe­cific warm-ups and un­graded over­load of train­ing vol­ume,” she says. “Warm-ups for wa­ter sports should be­gin out of the wa­ter in a dynamic fash­ion for ap­prox­i­mately 10 min­utes prior to the wa­ter-based warm-up. And although over­load is nec­es­sary for im­prove­ments in aer­o­bic and strength train­ing, this should be achieved by mon­i­tor­ing the time and in­ten­sity of train­ing.

“There is mixed ev­i­dence as to how spe­cific this graded in­crease should be. How­ever, my rule of thumb is to never ex­ceed your vol­ume by more than 20 per cent with­out ad­e­quate rest and guid­ance. Other fac­tors which may in­flu­ence one’s in­jury risk are fail­ure to ad­dress pre­vi­ous in­juries, the use of steroids, strength deficits and ab­nor­mal tech­niques and biome­chan­ics.”

The World Surf Life­sav­ing Cham­pi­onships take place from No­vem­ber 16th to De­cem­ber 2nd. The com­pe­ti­tion, which is held ev­ery two years, fea­tures pool and ocean events and in­cludes par­tic­i­pants from 30-35 coun­tries, in­clud­ing Ire­land.

The 2018 na­tional team (coached by Bren­dan McGrath) in­cludes: Bernard Cahill (Clare), Joseph Mooney (Sligo), Odhrán Sav­age (Water­ford), Lily Bar­rett (Clare), Róisín Cahill (Clare), Emer Kelly (Wick­low) and Denise Bol­ger (Wex­ford).

Hope­fully avoid­ing in­jury, Lily Bar­rett and her team­mates want to do Ire­land proud at the world cham­pi­onships. “We’ve been train­ing hard and are re­ally look­ing for­ward to head­ing to Aus­tralia and tak­ing on the chal­lenges,” she says. “And we’re all de­lighted to be rep­re­sent­ing our coun­try.”

Ev­ery day brings some­thing dif­fer­ent as the weather, the waves and the en­vi­ron­ment are con­stantly chang­ing

From left: Denise Bol­ger, Lily Bar­rett (also pic­tured above claim­ing a Eu­ro­pean medal, and right in the wa­ter), Emer Kelly and Róisín Cahill will rep­re­sent Ire­land at the 2018 World Surf Life­sav­ing Cham­pi­onships.

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