‘It was magical’ – Dublin girl, 16, swims 18km in the UK with her grandfather

A 16-year-old girl from Co Dublin, who only took up open water swimming during lockdown, became the youngest swimmer to complete this year’s Lake Windermere Swim in the UK.

Abrielle Furlong, who faced elite swimmers of all ages, completed Saturday’s 18km back-and-forth in eight hours and 17 minutes.

Windermere is England’s largest natural lake and is situated in Cumbria’s Lake District National Park.

The fifth-year student, who lives in Killiney, only took up open water swimming as a hobby in 2020 to improve her mental health.

Gabrielle said she received great guidance from her swim coach, Claire O’Dwyer, who “never doubted me, even when I doubted myself.”

“Everything I’ve done over the past two years has led to that. At first it was very surreal and then it kind of got like a rhythm, I got kind of groggy in places, but it was beautiful just swimming with the sunrise and then the sun went right down on us, it was magical,” she said.


Gabrielle Furlong (16) completed the 18km one-way swim on Saturday

“I’ve never swum that long so it was something I’ve never experienced and experiencing Lake Windermere from the water isn’t something many people can do so being in that position was magical be.

“I started open water swimming when my mental health was pretty bad, I didn’t really have anything to do, I didn’t have a hobby. A swim coach I had when I was in elementary school took me to the beach one day and she said ‘just try it’ and that was during lockdown in 2020 and I’ve been swimming ever since.

“My mental health has gotten so much better, I feel like I have something to look forward to every day and a goal to set for myself. And nowadays everyone my age has a phone, so I just get off my phone and have this time to myself.”

Gabrielle’s grandfather Peter Walsh (69), originally from Bray, Co Wicklow, acted as her supportive kayaker throughout the race and was by her side every step of the way.

Mr Walsh took up kayaking to guide his granddaughter on the course. Gabrielle said it was a “very special” experience for both of them and she even made sure her grandfather received a medal for his efforts too.

“When I applied to swim, there was an opportunity to have a kayaker from the organizers, but it’s someone you don’t know and you only meet him on the day,” she said.

“So we went with someone I knew and my grandfather said very kindly, ‘Write my name in and I’ll start training’. So we’ve been training together ever since and that’s definitely brought us a lot closer.

“There were so many people involved, but it wouldn’t have been possible without him. He kept me going the full 18km so I was thrilled.”

Gabrielle has now set herself the goal of swimming the English Channel, which is between 40 and 48 km long, next year.

“I’m hoping to do that in 2023 but I was advised to do this swim as a stepping stone and just go for it but I’m so glad I did.” ‘It was magical’ – Dublin girl, 16, swims 18km in the UK with her grandfather

Fry Electronics Team

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