Anne Marie Ward with swim plaqueAn Irish woman who began distance swimming in her late 30’s as a way to bring balance and fitness to her working life, has been chosen over a dozen Olympic athletes as the 2010 World Open Water Swimmer of the Year.

Anne Marie Ward completely reversed her previously unhealthy lifestyle and became a national hero last year by becoming only the eleventh person in history to complete the grueling 22-mile North channel swim between Ireland and Scotland.

It all started 7 years ago with a decision to join a 2 km charity swim event.

“Colleagues and myself were on a Management Development Programme and we were asked to develop a personal goal, something maybe from our childhood that we always wanted to do but never got around to. Coincidentally three of us had an interest in swimming and we decided to do a charity sea swim for our personal project,” wrote Ward on her website.

Feeling healthy again made her eager to try to swim farther.

Without sponsorship or sports funding, but with a great support team to whom she attributes her success, she swam the English Channel in 2007. But, she realized that the real Mount Everest of open water swimming is the notorious Irish (North Sea) Channel and it would require a reservoir of strength as yet unknown to her.

She tried first in 2008, and again in 2009. Even after a third attempt failed in mid-2010, following a tenacious five-hour struggle with stinging jellyfish that eventually required hospitalization, she set her mind to trying again in September.

Anne Marie swimming - from“Most swimmers won’t touch the North Channel, it really is the ultimate challenge, and I guess I just like the challenge,” says Ward.

Man first attempted to swim solo across the North Channel in 1924, however after numerous failed attempts it was 1946 before Tom Blower succeeded in making the crossing. Since then, there have been many attempts to cross the inhospitable Channel — fraught with rough tides, freezing temperatures and jellyfish — but in the succeeding 64 years, only ten swimmers had been successful.

On September 9, after nearly 20 hours of arm rotations — many of them required to simply keep her from going backward — Anne Marie became the first Irish woman and the 11th person in history to complete it. And with the final stroke, this working woman from Portnablagh joined the most elite marathon club in the world.

For reaching the pinnacle of her sport with her tenacious never-give-up spirit she was selected by her peers last week as the 2010 World Open Water Swimming Woman Of The Year.

Upon hearing the news, she told Sports News Ireland she felt “honored, humbled and ‘gobsmacked’.”

Although she eats a healthy carbohydrate-rich diet, she doesn’t worry about her weight. “The beauty of cold water swimming is that fat is an asset so it’s important to maintain my body fat… That’s my excuse, anyway!”

Anne Marie continues to swim for charity raising money for the Letterkenny General Hospital in Donegal, Ireland.

Read a first hand account of her North Channel success by Nuala Moore, who called Ms. Ward a “Force of Nature.”

Thanks to Stacy Pierce for submitting the story idea!

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