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‘It’s never too late to swim’ – Norma Cahill on life in and out of the water

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*Norma Cahill with her daughter Róisín. 

From Ennis to Eindhoven, Norma Cahill has conquered the world in a swimming sense in a career that has seen her accumulate National, European and World records.

It started in The West County, what is now the conference centre was once the location of a swimming pool where Norma spent many a summer. The journey continues but she credits Kilrush native Monica Doyle (née McNamara) for developing her competitive attitude in the water.

“Monica McNamara, she was fantastic and really encouraged people to start swimming. Then the Community Games came along, we had special training for that and I would accredit her with getting me involved competitively. The old pool closed and she moved her job to the pool in Ennis which had then opened a four length pool and we all followed her, she got the swimming club going in Ennis. She has always been instructing lifesaving in Kilkee, she retired last year. Up to last year she had been a very active instructor in Clare Water Safety”.

Next month Norma will be part of the Irish team heading to Italy for the Lifesaving European Championships. It’s not a new experience for the Ennis woman who confessed, “I have a lot of world records”. The 2016 World Water Safety Championships saw her win four gold medals in the pool at Eindhoven, she has set world records in the 100m manikin tow and 100 manikin carry, as well as one European masters record in the 50m manikin carry plus another 2018 world record “in the medley”. In swimming as opposed to lifesaving, she set a 1500m European Masters record that stood for quite a time.

On average she will take to the water five times a week for a swim but her timetable as a PE and Maths Teacher at Rice College often dictates when. Encouraging secondary school students to take up swimming is a bit more difficult than those in primary school in her opinion. “I don’t do a lot of aquatics during PE and it would be something I’d loved to have done more of but it’s difficult to slot it into a timetable or get the pool, they’re older children too so it’s harder to get them into the pool”.

Swimming is part of the curriculum for their primary school counterparts which was unheard of in times gone by which resulted in several people never learning how to swim. “The primary schools are making a huge effort to get kids to the pool. If you look at the amount of pools in Ennis with the hotels they are all busy, we could do with another pool in Ennis”.

“It’s never ever too late to swim, there’s so many options now with all sorts of adult classes, open water for adults, triathlons and all that helps their swimming. It’s very important,” Cahill said in encouraging those that did not get to avail of such a luxury in primary school to take to the water regardless of their age.

Such positivity has been exuded to her children, Bernard and Róisín whose international medals she proudly speaks of, she describes her husband Sean as “a great water man”, the kayaker was “instrumental in getting them paddling”, their kids have excelled in the water and saved the life of one man in Lahinch two years ago.

Her pride is echoed when conversation turns to the many youngsters that have been under her tutelage at Ennis Swimming Club. “I coach the little ones in the swimming club, I coached the older ones until my children moved on from Ennis Swimming Club. When they moved on, I went back to the new little ones starting off and I really like that”. Clare’s weekend performance at the Surf Lifesaving Nationals in Sligo was very pleasing, “to see all our hard work is coming to fruition, we won the Junior Boys, Junior Girls and the Little Nippers, we can see the result of our hard work”.

Coaching is nothing new to the former Colaiste Muire student, back in 1989 she was the physical trainer of the Clare senior hurlers. Ironically, she was also profiled by The Irish Times the following year for her involvement with ‘Women plan to keep GAA on its toes’ the heading of Sean Kilfeather’s article.

Back then she was Murphy and Kilfeather’s observation of how hurling was incorporated into physical work show how Norma in a way was ahead of her time. Tony Kelly was the manager at the time, yes younger readers there’s more than one Tony Kelly to have played a part in the Clare hurling story and he explained then why he opted for the Ennis woman ahead of David Mahedy and the likes.

“It wasn’t a case of looking for anybody in particular. The appointment was left up to me by the county board and I decided I wanted a qualified, committed person. I decided on Norma, she had experience of training the second level teams of the Christian Brothers in Ennis, she lives locally and her experience as a competitive swimmer is also important. She knows what it takes to compete and win at a high level and her qualifications are top class. The fact that she is a woman just didn’t come into it one way or the other. Norma has the complete confidence of the players. They were surprised at first but she gained their confidence and respect straight away. The lads responded well. They recognised that she is a professional who knows what she is doing and what she is talking about. There is a great spirit of camaraderie in the squad and Norma is part of it. The spirit of the side is better than it has been for a long time and she is partly responsible for that”.

Kilfeather’s article in The Times is still in Norma’s possession, maybe to serve as a reminder of her ability and character, this piece by The Clare Echo may not hold such a place in her heart but it emphasises how far Norma Cahill has come and how much she has achieved.

Newmarket-on-Fergus native, Páraic McMahon is a freelance journalist and broadcaster currently working for numerous national and local publications including The Clare Echo, The Irish Examiner, The Irish Independent, The Irish Times, RTÉ, TheJournal.ie, The42.ie. A graduate of Mary Immaculate College, Páraic was previously employed by The Clare Herald and Clare FM. If you have a story, tip or some feedback for him then send an email to - paraic@clareecho.ie

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