05 Jul 2022

A Laois woman is doing an incredible swim challenge for charity

A Laois woman is doing an incredible swim challenge for charity

Joan Fennelly from Mountmellick who is swimming 100km in open water for charity.

It has been a very busy and energetic summer for Mountmellick woman, Joan Fennelly, who is swimming 100km in 100 Days to support Nepali children’s charity Kidasha.

Formerly from Lord Edward Street, Joan, like most of her contemporaries from Mountmellick, ignited her love of swimming as a small child at ‘The Four Banks’, a famous stretch of the Oweness River in the town. 

“These were very simple, and very happy times. Like many other families in Mountmellick in the 1970s, we had many carefree summer days having family picnics in Pim’s fields, as well as splashing about and swimming in The Four Banks. As times moved on, my older brothers learned to drive and our swimming adventures evolved to include regular excursions to Portlaoise and Portarlington swimming pools. My brother Will first got me swimming. I always loved the water as and my Mam has always said that I was fearless as a small child," she recalls.

Joan recently returned to swimming as a means to get fit for her 50th birthday. Swimming lessons transformed her abilities. 

"I had developed a style of my own, and never really had coaching on how to swim properly and effectively so when trying to ramp up the distances, I was plagued with cramps and muscle strains because of bad technique. About 2 years ago I went to a husband and wife swim coaching team who basically took me apart and got me swimming properly and effectively. It was very frustrating and tedious unpicking a lifetime of bad habits but with persistence and practice I got there. This put my swimming on another level and swimming a few miles in one go was as achievable as swimming a few hundred yards," she explained to the Leinster Express.

Joan moved to Henley 17 years ago and works as a software sales director, travelling across the UK & Ireland for her work.

"My partner Martin is a patient man and very supportive of my swimming activities, albeit that they frequently take over weekends during the summer months," she said. 

She almost regretted coming up with her idea of a 100km Swim in 100 days challenge.

"I thought I’d really shot myself in the foot with such a big and public challenge - it was quite daunting. I’d set the goal of swimming 10km a week and just breaking it up into smaller manageable chunks, than a daunting 100km. In getting through the kilometres each week, I was blessed with the fantastic summer weather and also by joining the Henley Open Water Swimming Club - all of a sudden I had a group of willing swimmers within a mile of my home that I could go swimming in the Thames either Very early in the morning before work, or after work. It has been a real pleasure swimming up or down stream to other villages, and every now and again stopping just to admire the beautiful hills and birds around us. It is also great fun chatting to people in boats as we swim past. So what started out as a daunting challenge has turned into a labour of love!" she said.

Joan’s mum, Marie, who still lives in Mountmellick is extremely encouraging of her efforts and has been fundraising in the local area on her behalf. So far, Marie has managed to collect €540 from the local community, which Joan is really grateful for.

“It’s amazing to see such support from my hometown. I want to say a big thank you to everyone who has donated or is planning to donate, and please check my Just Giving page for updates on my big swim.”

Joan’s 100km in 100 Days Swim Challenge has really pushed her, but with 74km swam in June and July, she is well on her way to achieving her 100km by the deadline of 1st September.

Joan is now a very active member of the Henley Open Water Swimming Club and as part of this challenge she has taken part in famous Henley swimming events such as the Club to Pub, The Henley Classic and The Henley Mile, but Joan’s biggest challenge will be swimming the Thames Marathon this
Sunday, August 5.

At 14km long, the Thames Marathon swim race is the longest inland swim challenge in the UK, and starts at the iconic Henley Bridge, and finishes at the bridge in the neighbouring town of Marlow.

“I am somewhat nervous as it is almost twice as long as the furthest distance I have swam in a single day. But for better or worse, I am signed up and committed to doing it, and aiming to complete the race in 6-7 hours, all going to plan.” she said.

She decided to take on the huge challenge for Kidasha.

“Having heard many stories over the years about the children and young women that have been supported by Kidasha’s great work in Nepal, I decided that this would be a very worthy beneficiary of whatever funds I could raise from my 100Km in 100 days swim challenge. I know that, with Kidasha, the money I raise will make a big difference on the frontline. Helping to raise funds to send children to school, or provide safe havens for child labourers or sexually exploited girls is a very important and worthy cause that will keep me motivated when I’m tired or sore.”

Janice Miller is CEO of Kidasha.

“I’m extremely grateful to Joan for taking on this fantastic
challenge to help Kidasha. Everyone at Kidasha is behind Joan, we’re all wishing her the best of luck and are giving her tonnes of encouragement for all the 6am swims she’s been doing and especially for Thames Marathon on Sunday.”

To support Joan’s fundraising efforts, you can donate via her Just Giving page here. 

To find out more about Kidasha visit

Below: Joan in action in the River Thames.

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