Northern Ireland

Record-breaking swimmer wins world title

Anne Marie Ward
Image caption Anne Marie Ward is the first Irishwoman to swim the North Channel

A woman from Donegal has beaten off competition from Olympic athletes around the world to win the title of World Open Water Swimmer of the Year.

Anne Marie Ward from Portnablagh took more than 47% of the vote in the global online poll.

She defeated bad weather, cramp and shoals of jellyfish to successfully swim the North Channel on her fourth attempt.

She believes her determination won her the public's support.

"I'm still taking it all in, it's hard to believe really.

"I found out at the beginning of November that I was on the shortlist of 12 women in a global online poll.

"I'm not an Olympic athlete and I'm not from a professional swimming background, so even to be included was an absolute honour.

"I think I won primarily for my perserverence in trying to get across the North Channel.

"My first attempt was back in 2008, I was in the water for 17 and a half hours but the tide and the water beat me.

"In 2009 I went back but again the attempt had to be abandoned because of bad weather.

Irish record

"In 2010 I spent five hours in beds of jellyfish but I had multiple jellyfish stings and my muscles seized up and I had to be taken out of the water.

"I successfully made it across on 1 August - it took me just under 19 hours - and I was the first Irishwoman to do so."

Anne Marie said her attempts to make the crossing from Northern Ireland to Scotland became a personal challenge for her entire team.

"I was lucky to have the most fabulous team of people around me, all friends of mine and all volunteers mostly from Sheephaven Sub-Aqua Club.

"They knew how determined I was to do this, that it was my dream to do this, and they supported me all the way.

"After the first and second attempt it became personal for all of us, and they worked so hard plotting routes and tides and supporting me in my challenge."

She may have achieved her goal, but Anne Marie already has her eye on her next challenge.

"It's an extremely difficult channel to swim, and around the world it's known as one of the most difficult.

"I'm going to take a little bit of time out now because it was a three-year battle, but there are a lot of channels out there so in the new year we'll probably sit down and have a look and see what's next.

"I'd like to continue and try something else, but North Channel is the big one and I think I'm going to enjoy a few nicer swims now."