PARADISE, NL — Swim the five kilometers of open ocean from Portugal Cove to Bell Island, with waves rising and falling and unseen creatures possibly sharing the water with you, is symbolic of a mental health struggle, says Sheilagh O ‘Leary.
“It really draws attention to the challenge, both mentally and physically,” she said in a phone interview.
O’Leary co-chaired with Paula Tessier the 10th Munn Insurance Tickle Swim for Mental Health – officially Tickle Swim.
O’Leary, who is also the Deputy Mayor of St. John’s, launched the Tickle Swim in 2013 with the aim of raising awareness and reducing stigma about mental illness and “reminding us that physical and mental health go hand in hand go,” reads the Tickle Swim website.
“It really draws attention to the challenge, both mentally and physically.”
— Sheilagh O’Leary
People sign up to swim and those who want to support them can donate money with a goal of raising $50,000 for the Canadian Mental Health Association Newfoundland and Labrador (CMHA-NL).
The swim is a very high-risk event, O’Leary said, and the safety of the participants is of paramount importance. Given the winds on Saturday 17th September they decided to offer participants a virtual option where they can swim in a pool or pond and fulfill their commitment to distance and challenge and honor their sponsors.
However, three sisters from Paradise, Lauren, Morgan and Amanda Dinn, devote themselves to crossing the five kilometers in the ocean, but in an area closer to the coast.
“It’s just a lot more difficult and the two of them aren’t as scared as I am, but I’ve always been scared of what’s underneath me and what animals are in there, so the fear is part of that,” Morgan said.
All three swam competitively from childhood through their teenage years. But despite this love for the sport, the cause comes first.
“As soon as we saw it was a mental health fundraiser, it kind of hit us,” Morgan said. “Everyone knows someone who is affected by mental illness and I think three of us have all had our experiences with it, especially with the pandemic.”
Lauren has wanted to sign up since Morgan and Amanda first swam The Tickle in 2019, so this year is extra special for the siblings.
If one of them is having trouble, the other two are just a phone call or text away. But they recognize that not everyone has that support.
“The most important thing for us was to raise awareness about mental illness and end the stigma and be open and honest about it,” Morgan said. “But the money going into programs is huge.”
The Dinns are three of the 17 people who raised money this year.
Support is also important during swimming.
“If you swim in the middle of the ocean, you can’t see Bell Island, you can’t see where you’re going. So you’re totally relying on your kayak guide to guide you,” Amanda said.
As is often required when someone feels lost in a mental illness, connecting with another person can be crucial and potentially life-saving.
“You really bond with your kayaker after that because he literally takes you to the other side,” Morgan said. “When me and Amanda did it in 2019, we met our kayakers two nights before, we had no idea who they were. And then when they walked you over and they were that support for you, it was amazing.”
Not only will you save someone who may need it, but every time you lift your head to exhale, you can see them cheering for you, Amanda said.
As a recent vet school graduate, Lauren wanted to raise awareness of the high rate of suicidal ideation in the profession.
“I just want to draw attention to that,” Lauren said. “In this way you not only support your friends and family, but also future colleagues.”
As of Saturday, the three Dinn sisters were planning to go for a swim in a cove in Holyrood on Monday morning, with the help of kayakers and each other of course.