Limerick pensioner named World’s oldest Ice-Mile swimmer after completing “extreme” challenge in River Shannon

Limerick Ice swimmers Alan Gleeson,53(blue cap) and Harry Harbison(63) swim in the icy cold Shannon waters at the Mill road in Limerick. Photograph Liam Burke/Press 22

A Limerick pensioner who occupied himself during the lockdown, by swimming in the River Shannon, has become the world’s oldest Ice-Mile swimmer.

Ger Purcell, 66, from Limerick, trained over winter within 5km from his home, in line with public health restrictions, before completing the challenge in freezing conditions in just over 43 minutes.

Sign up for the weekly Limerick Post newsletter

Guinness World Records has confirmed that Mr Purcell, of the Limerick Narwhales club, became the oldest male athlete to complete an ice-mile under international ice swimming association regulations, when he swam a mile, without stopping, in 4.93 degrees celsius water, three weeks ago.

“During the summer I swim across the bay in Kilkee everyday, so my friends said I should have a go at the ice-mile swim, and I said to them, ‘do I look mad enough to swim through the winter in ice cold weather’,” said Mr Purcell.

“Then the lockdown happened and basically I kept swimming, the weather started to go downhill over November, December, January, but I kept going; It was something to keep me occupied over lockdown too.”

“The biggest problem I had was getting swims in during the lockdown, but I managed it within the 5km because the River Shannon is situated near where I live.”

The grandfather, from Richmond Park, Corbally, who is also a member of St Michael’s Rowing Club, said he nearly didn’t finish the challenge due to the “extreme conditions”.

“I was doing very well but then in the last 400 metres, I struggled. As I went around the buoy  I kind of swung off it because I was getting a bit tired, and the sun was beating down on my face, and I looked up and my eyes hit the sun and I took a mouthful of water.”

“It was cold and I got a bit disorientated, and I was trying to get my level right, to get to the next buoy, which I couldn’t see because of the sun, so the last 200 metres were fairly tough.”

Despite the cold temperatures Mr Purcell kept to the ice-mile regulations which only allow competitors to wear swimming togs, a swimming cap, and goggles.

“The water was 4.9 degrees and I couldn’t wear anything else, no Vaseline or anything else, so you’re bare. My recovery took about two hours, I had to have someone else with me to get me out of the water, because my feet and hands were like ice blocks.”

“You can’t get dressed because you can’t feel your hands to get dressed, so you need to get warmed straight away. I’m told that in other parts of the world where it has been done that they go to a jacuzzi and steam room afterwards, but basically I was just getting dressed in my car.”

Mr Purcell, who has three grown up children and seven grandchildren, has “always been into sport” and “challenging myself”.

“I’ve done a couple of triathlons but I damaged my ankle so I need an operation on that, but I still do a bit of cycling.”

“My son thinks I’m mad, but now I can say I’m the oldest ice swimmer in town.”

The previous oldest ice mile swimmer was a 64 year old man.

Mr Purcell said he won’t be doing the ice-mile challenge again, but he now campaigning for Limerick City and County Council to redevelop existing swimming baths in Corbally in order to attract international ice mile swimmers to Limerick.

“We have the most ice milers in the world at the Limerick Narwhales club and we are really building up the ice miles especially among the younger guys. We need a place and there is talks about the council developing the Corbally baths this year.”

“It would be brilliant, because you could bring international swimmers into Limerick and have international events there.”