Meet Patricia Heffernan

March 25, 2021

Patricia Heffernan is an accomplished open water swimmer, who has completed an English Channel relay and Ice Mile. She swims with Glenalbyn Masters Swimming Club and is part of a huge community of deaf swimmers, volunteers, teachers and coaches within the Swim Ireland family. Let’s learn more about Patricia’s relationship with the water…

Q: What do you like about being in the water?

A: Swimming is my favourite hobby. It’s a pastime that you can take with you throughout a whole lifetime. It’s a wonderful way of exercising, as it gives your whole body a good workout and is not season dependant.

I swim almost every day of the year - Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. The temperature of the water does not bother me at all. I love swimming throughout the full year. I love the rhythm of the sea around me.

Sea swimming is different every day, from the weather conditions to the people you meet. After the swim you feel so good and invigorated for the day ahead. We usually have a short chat afterwards, the other swimmers and I, about the swimming conditions etc.

Overall, swimming plays a huge part in my life. It is an extremely important life skill for everyone to have and should be encouraged at a very young age. It is a super way of relieving stress. It clears your head and is an exercise for all ages.

Q: How did you get into swimming?

A: I have been a swimmer since I was a teenager when the town I grew up in opened a new swimming pool. Around the same time, they also built one at the boarding school I attended. The love of swimming started then. However, life got in the way for a while, with work, young children, and travelling, so swimming was parked.

My passion for sea swimming began in 2013. A school friend from Kerry, who is also deaf, asked me and some other keen swimmers if we would be interested in setting up a relay team to swim the English Channel. From there myself and five other deaf swimmers started training to swim the Channel, even though I had not swum for 30 years.

I returned to swimming, and began the training for this challenging swim. As our training began, I was really surprised to see how many people swam daily in the sea. I never looked back. From that year on I became addicted to sea swimming and feel very passionately about this.

I then joined Glenalbyn Masters Swimming Club in 2014, so I could start competing in sea races. I was very nervous joining this club as my friends and I had no experience of competing in sea races. We all found that competing in sea races was an amazing experience though, from the various races to different, beautiful locations around the country.

Since the day I joined Glenalbyn, my swimming has been unstoppable! I have to say I am so blessed and lucky to live so close to the sea. This has made it possible for me to go there every day during lockdown.

[The Irish deaf swimmers relay team completed their swim on July 7, 2014 in a 14hrs 10.44mins].

Q: Have you always felt included by your club and community?

A: Initially, it was hard work joining the club and the sea swimming community. It took me a few years to fit in, due to the communication issues I have because of my deafness.

Of course communication is still an issue and quite limited. However, I now really feel that I am part of the club and am included, compared to how I felt two years ago.

Most of the club members are quite good now at lipreading, with good facial and hand gestures. They understand that to communicated with me it needs to be on a one-to-one basis, face to face, where I can read their lips.

Some of the members are very good at offering to interpret what is being said by the leaders and organisers before the start of a race.

It is still impossible for me when they talk in a group. But I still feel connected when we all go out to swim together as a group. No matter what, at the end of the day, we are all human and all the same.

Q: What do you think is your greatest achievement?

A: It’s hard to pick out my greatest achievement as I have achieved a lot since starting sea swimming. For me, meeting new people, so many different swimmers of all levels of ability, and making friends with them and communicating with them, is a great achievement. From the club, the ice swimmers, long distance swimmers and social swimmers, I love to join in with them all and feel part of the swimming circle.

One of my greatest achievements, physically, mentally and emotionally was joining the ice swimmers. This was the most demanding and difficult to do, but I learnt so much from learning how to cope with swimming in freezing water. The importance of breathing, being able to relax, to control your mind and body, and to know when to stop and get out.

The most difficult part of ice swimming is the recovery after the swim. I’m delighted that last year I reached my goal of swimming in the Ice Mile challenge and completing it. I felt absolutely wonderful afterwards, even though it was the hardest thing I have ever done.

Q: Who is your role model in swimming and why?

A: Without any doubt, my coach Ger Kennedy is my role model. This is because of the way he has encouraged me from the first day we met.

He has taught me how to understand the conditions in the sea, how far to swim safely in long-distance events, and also the correct food/drink for sea swimmers, to help them with long-distance swimming.

He was instrumental in me joining New Park Swimming Club, where he then recommended that I push myself more and go into the fast lane. Speed was never one of my strong points!

He also introduced me to the ice swimmers, which became just as addictive as long-distance swimming. Ger continued with his encouragement, and pushed me to swim harder in the cold, rough and long-distance sea swims.

I will always be grateful and thankful to him for all his training and advice, for believing in me and for teaching me to go at my own pace, to enjoy it, and not to get stressed. Also, during lockdown, he organised the Walrus Swim Challenge, which kept us all going, from beginners right through to the most experienced. This was extremely beneficial physically, mentally and emotionally.

Q: Has anything ever stopped you doing something in swimming due to your hearing impairment?

A: Nothing has ever stopped or hindered me from doing my passion, swimming. Maybe Swim Ireland were not at first aware that deaf swimmers had joined, but I would say that the various groups are now used to having deaf swimmers amongst them, in training sessions in the pool and sea, and in the sea races. I'm blessed to be able to swim daily, throughout the whole year, even in this pandemic.

Q: What one thing could Swim Ireland change to improve our community for you?

A: I would dearly love to see improvements with Swim Ireland swimmers and organisers learning sign language, or more lip reading and gestures, to enable better communication with deaf people, especially at events like the sea races, AGM, meetings or social gatherings.

This would make it more inclusive for the deaf community, and I feel that this would encourage more deaf people to join in the future. It can be difficult for deaf people not catching what people are saying and thus giving them a feeling of being left out.

Want to learn more?

Want to learn more?

If you want to improve your communication with our deaf community, take some time to watch our 10 Tips for Communicating with Deaf and Hard of Hearing People, and also our playlist of Irish Sign Language lessons.

These lessons cater specifically for swimmers, and include a whole episode on Open Water Swimming Conditions and another on Open Water Swimming Words.

Irish Sign Language Videos
Diversity and Inclusion Policy

Diversity and Inclusion Policy

This story is part of a series we are sharing to showcase how inclusive the aquatics are, and how we believe they are a sport for life, and a sport for everyone.

To find out more check out the documents below:

Swim Ireland Diversity and Inclusion Policy WORD DOCUMENT

Swim Ireland Diversity and Inclusion Policy PDF

On Demand CPD: Deaf-Friendly Swimming

On Demand CPD: Deaf-Friendly Swimming

This online CPD is an excellent tool for teachers and coaches to learn how to teach and coach the deaf swimmer and ensure that deaf and hard of hearing people are fully supported in swimming sessions.

Swim Ireland encourages every active teacher and coach to take advantage of this brilliant course to continue to ensure that swimming is a fully inclusive sport.

Access Deaf-Friendly Swimming CPD