From the Heart - Irish Sea Challenge
On this week’s VOYA Wellness Blog, we find out why VOYA M.D & Co-Founder Mark Walton, has been spending a lot of early mornings paddling tirelessly amongst freezing & rough seas with a good friend of his, John Monahan here in County Sligo.
The Challenge Itself
This adventuring duo from Sligo are set to paddle across the Irish Sea to Scotland on Friday, June 11, 2021, which will be a gruelling 40 km prone paddle, we asked Mark to tell us more.
'' I have always loved the sea, whether it is free diving, surfing, open water swimming, anything! Prone paddling for me is a natural extension of this, think of it as open ocean orienteering, taking off from one point and plotting a course offshore, with the tides, the swell and wind.
It sounds dangerous, but it is safer often than being in a boat and you feel really connected to the elements, the waves, the wildlife, there is a level of experience required and you build up to it. This is where the idea of crossing the north channel of the Irish sea came to mind, leaving from Donaghadee in Antrim and landing somewhere in Scotland. It is a channel and affected by currents, so as the crow flies it is approx 34 km, but we are likely to be pushed off course by the currents, we should complete it in 40 km.''
We have a window of 5 days, we will look for favourable conditions, ideally light tail winds. I would like to make it on the 13th, as it would be the anniversary of my father’s passing, but the Irish weather has the final say on that. We have an escort boat with us for safety, in case anything goes wrong, but also because it is a busy commercial shipping lane, and two guys on little boards are hard to see from the bridge of the ferry!''
''Prone paddle boards are different to Stand Up Paddle boards, in that they are smaller, narrower, and lower volume, you don’t use a paddle, just your hands. The boards are specially designed for the open water environment and are imported from Australia and the States. Lifeguard surf lifesaving boards are similar, but ours are designed for speed and are quite unstable.
You paddle prone on your stomach and knees if the conditions allow. We are self-sustaining, in that we have water bottles and energy gels, we usually carry a VHF radio to contact the coast guard and a PLB (personal locator beacon). Throughout our training we have been in close contact with the Irish Coast Guards as a lot of our training would have taken us up to 5 km offshore at times.
I currently train 10 times a week, which includes paddling (obviously), sea swimming, core strength training and a lot of stretching and rehab work to prevent injury. Paddling, particularly in open seas, is very physically demanding, which is why I do some strength and core work, also why only do one long paddle a week. It is like being on a bucking bronco at times with the winds and a ground swell, offshore, managing my body and making sure I don’t get injured is important. Stretching daily and good nutrition is vital, it's no coincidence that Sea Or, our sea supplements launched recently!
A Personal Journey
2020 - 2021
''I wasn’t particularly sporty as a child and particularly in the years when we started VOYA the lengthy international travel meant I gained a lot of weight and whilst no one will want to relive the Covid pandemic, it did allow me the time to make changes in my life, to focus on wellness, and becoming fitter and healthier. Your health is your wealth, wellness is one of our key brand pillars at VOYA. I lost 5 stone during 2020/ 2021, I focused on getting fit, and building on that momentum. I feel like I am being presented with an opportunity to do something crazy and fantastic at the same time.''
Find out more about Mark’s journey during the pandemic, via ''Head Above Water-'' where Mark discusses operating a beauty and wellness business, practicing self-care, protecting your physical and mental health and the surprising positives that have come from living through Covid-19. You can read more here.
The Why - From the Heart
''In life, it is not until something is gone that you realise how important it is to you.
My father gave us a wonderful upbringing full of adventure, I know I will never live up to that. Though like most we didn’t have much, he supported my brother, sister, and I in everything we did and made great personal sacrifices to ensure we could fulfill our dreams. When he passed suddenly after a sea swim, it came as a tremendous shock and we were all very angry to have him taken from us so young, so fit. I was angry at myself for not doing more with him, but no one could have seen this coming, a lesson.
The following year Neil my brother encouraged me to do a few open water swim races, races that my father would have done and been a well known participant.
Neil, who is a well-known accomplished athlete, competing for Ireland in Triathlons in his youth, went on to win the event that year. Maybe Dad willed it.
It lit a passion in me, I enjoyed it, I did not have any sporting pedigree, but also my son Avery arrived the year after Dad's passing and I felt it was time for a change.
There is nothing like a little one to show you if you’re unfit.
With the support and encouragement of my brother aka Mr. Motivator, I started to swim more and more every year, doing open-water swim races up to 10k long. After that, I wanted to do something more, the words 'midlife crisis' have been mentioned to me to be honest. I originally thought about swimming the English Channel, but it didn’t resonate with me, its funny how things work out.
Kira my long-suffering wife has supported this insanity throughout, god only knows what she thinks. Ultimately, anyone who does something like this is selfish, but she only has encouragement for me.
The Irish Heart Foundation are working towards making sure what happened to my father does not happen to someone else’s father, however, I only ask for your encouragement in this adventure, but I am grateful for anything you can donate.
How to Donate
You can donate to my JustGiving page by clicking here.
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