A Portadown woman who took up swimming after a break of 30 years has completed a record long-distance swim in the Irish Sea.
Andrea Judge, aged 46, was among an all-female relay team who, on Monday, became the first people ever to swim a 44-kilometre stretch of the Irish coastline.
The women, who were not allowed to wear wetsuits – swimming costumes, hat and goggles only – swam in one-hour rotation from Templetown Beach in Co Louth to Rockabill Lighthouse in Skerries, Co Dublin, in a total of 13 hours, 39 minutes.
Andrea, who works in Ashgrove Furnishings, just off the Garvaghy Road, said they were blessed with good weather but that lion’s mane jellyfish were a problem with several of the team being badly stung.
The team also included Camlough woman Lauren O’Malley, an open water swimmer, runner and adventurer; Edele Johnston, a member of Newry Triathlon Club who took up running in her 30s, progressed into cycling and took swimming lessons for her 40th birthday.
The others were Oonagh Garry, from Newry, a water polo player and North Channel relay record holder; Georgie Huston, formerly from Lurgan and a competitive swimmer and water polo player; and Jenn Fitzgerald, from Omeath, a swimming teacher, open water coach and lifeguard.
The women, who call themselves The Gráinne Ní Mháilles after the Irish pirate chieftain, were sponsored by Camlough-based Infinity Channel Swimming.
Andrea, a mother of two, said the right mental attitude was crucial as it was a “really, really tough swim”.
She said: “I was really lucky. I had amazing swims but there were girls who got really bad stings. There was one girl in particular and the toxins went right through her body and she was having problems with her kidneys and pains in her legs and feet.
“But we were joined by about 10 dolphins. It was fantastic. They came right under the boat and Lauren. When you are out on the water dolphins are a sign of luck and they definitely brought us luck.”
Andrea inherited her love of swimming from her dad Brian Judge – the 72-year-old still swims every morning at Lough Neagh, usually with a 5.30 am start.
Having been a competitive swimmer in her childhood, Andrea gave up swimming at the age of 13, returning to the sport at the age of 43, but this time to open water swimming.
Inspired by her brother Chris Judge, himself a record-holding open water swimmer, she joined Dot’s Swimming and Open Water Club as well as the Lough Neagh Monster Dunkers, a club founded by Chris.
“I was six stone heavier when I started and I was in poor health because of my weight. I had auto-immune diseases and now they are away,” she said.
“It wasn’t just the benefits of cold water swimming, I changed my whole diet and exercise regime. I wasn’t in a rut as such. I was raising my kids and once they were up a bit, I had a bit more time for myself, and the cold water just ignited the love of open water.”
Andrea completed her first solo marathon swim in July 2022, swimming across Dundalk Bay and breaking the course record.
She has also taken part in a North Channel Relay and, as a member of the Loughdown Ladies, completed a relay swim of the length of Lough Neagh in 2021, the first time this was ever done by a three-women relay.
Andrea is on the lookout for a marathon solo swim this year and is also planning to take part in a number of races, including one this Sunday.
She is also part of another relay team aiming for an English Channel swim in June 2024.
She added: “I just enjoy the sense of freedom and adventure that open water swimming gives me and the sense of achievement.”