Swimming for a Cause: 81-Year-Old Paddy Conaghan Wins WOWSA Man of the Year Gold for Charity Swims

Swimming for a Cause: 81-Year-Old Paddy Conaghan Wins WOWSA Man of the Year Gold for Charity Swims

Open water swimming has a new hero, and his name is Paddy Conaghan. The 81-year-old Irishman has just been awarded the WOWSA Man of the Year in the annual recognition of excellence in open water swimming.

Conaghan’s feat was no small accomplishment. He completed a non-contiguous charity swim around Ireland, starting and finishing on Arranmore Island. Over the course of the stage swim, he swam more than 300 times and raised over €104,400 for charity.

Conaghan, a father of four, is a former coal miner who left his native Donegal to work in Scotland at just 16 years old. He embarked on his “Ducking and Diving” charity swim in honor of friend Gemma Boyle, who passed away in February 2020. The journey began on December 4th, with Conaghan traveling in his specially adapted van, stopping at ports and piers all over Ireland to swim for a few minutes at a time.

Throughout his journey, Conaghan faced challenges such as losing his hearing aids and a breakdown of his van. However, he pressed on and completed 300 swims, with a record of 12 dips in the same day in the Rosses. The local Arranmore Blue Ferry owners even sponsored a new van to complete his mission.

In order to thank those who had supported him, Paddy has decided to use a subsequent ‘Driving and Ducking’ adventure to raise money for organizations in each province of Ireland. These included Accessible Counselling Tullamore, Lisheens House West Cork Suicide Prevention Service, Mindspace Mayo, PIPS Suicide Prevention Ireland and the RNLI.

Beyond the fundraising aspect of the challenge, Paddy is also using the initiative as an opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of seeking support when struggling with mental health.

“I remember being in the graveyard with my friend and he pointed out all of the graves of young people who shouldn’t be there. That’s what encouraged me to set this up,” he explained. “I want to take the message about mental health and mental health organizations around the country. I hope people follow me to see what I am doing and decide to support me. This is what it is about – raising awareness and funds for those important mental health charities.”

The WOWSA Awards, an annual recognition of excellence in open water swimming, celebrates individuals who embody the spirit of open water swimming and have made a positive impact on the community. With 143 nominations evaluated by the 97 members of the WOWSA Awards Voting Academy, Conaghan was chosen as one of the 10 finalists for the Man of the Year category.

More than 11,400 public votes were cast, with a 75% weighting from the WOWSA Academy and 25% from the general public, to determine the winners in each category. Conaghan was selected for his exceptional determination, fortitude, and sense of adventure. He has inspired countless individuals with his incredible charity swim and has shown what can be achieved with hard work, perseverance, and a love for open water swimming.

Conaghan’s bravery and determination have made a lasting impact on the open water community and beyond. He has shown that it is never too late to follow your passions and make a difference in the world. He has inspired countless individuals with his incredible charity swim and is a true inspiration to the open water swimming community

See Open Water Swimming Community Honors its Best at 2022 WOWSA Awards