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Friday, March 30, 2012

When Open Water Worlds Collide, Magic Happens

When Nuala Moore and Anne Marie Ward heard about Nejib Belhedi's 1400 km Swim Across Tunisia, they did what many open water swimmers do when their interest is piqued.

They emailed Nejib and Facebooked him.

One thing led to another and now the two open water swimmers from Ireland are enjoying a unique experience in Tunisia. In their own words, this is their story.

Open Water Source: How did you get about getting to Tunisia?
Nuala: Our interest mainly stemmed from the Dove of Peace experience we enjoyed in New York City at the Global Open Water Swimming Conference last year [where Nejib arranged for a dove symbolizing peace to be let go by an international group of open water swimmers]. What it meant mainly was curiosity and then a follow-up email from Nejib to thank Anne Marie for her involvement.

Then we watched things develop. We gradually developed a great admiration for what Nejib is doing at 61 years old. I suppose our personal discussion centered around his need for support and energy. We have been through the Round Ireland Swim and understand and know the pain when we arrived at ports and felt that we were alone. We question ourselves when the sacrifices became overwhelming and then wonder how we were physically and emotionally able to continue.

We knew that swimming on was the only option despite our internal battles. The swimming [part] is not always the greatest challenge; it is the spirit and the internal need for support and respect for Nejib's journey that we felt the need to help
.

We formed a bond early on as we watched him [from afar]. We saw his pain and knew that we could help him fly a little faster by being here [in Tunisia]. Coming from Ireland, we also have a deep-rooted understanding of his passion for peace. The revolution is still very fresh in his mind.

Open Water Source:What did you expect?
Nuala: We did not come with expectations. In fact, we were quite happy to go with whatever Nejib needed us for. Either way, we were here and I think this has worked well.

From the perspective of our personal expectations, we definitely felt a little apprehensive as two independent western women. Women's rights were only ratified in September 2011 and are still not law. So the whole cultural thing regarding covering up had our concerns because we are not in tourist areas and we were greeted by digniteries in formal surroundings as well as military representatives, especially being in swimming togs. Yep, we had our concerns.

Open Water Source:How is the swim?
Nuala: Three 10 km stage swims were planned for us with a rest day in between. But Nejib always discusses logistics and keeps us informed on every tiny detail. He is incredibly passionate and, though we are tired, we need to discuss world peace. The theme and need are pulsing in his veins. Everything he does and everything he talks about is about the journey for peace through swimming as the carrier pigeon - the universal language.

Our presence has been wonderful for his journey. Mainly as we are women, there are so many things within that fact. We are being greeted as women, being respected as women, being seen as women in swim costumes. Things that we take for granted like being hauled into boats by men. On the first day, Anne Marie threw her leg up for the guys to help her. They hesitated in touching her until I shouted "grab her leg". As international swimmers, we carry a positive message for Tunisia. Nejib is loving the profile that the Swim of peace is gaining with international input. Open water swimming is still an unknown sport here.

The priority this week has definitely been utilizing our presence to bring the Swim of Peace to a higher national and international awareness level. It has been exciting discussing the challenge to bringing the swim into Libya and beyond their borders. But it is impossible not to positively affected by Nejib's passion and his need for this journey to carry on.

The water here is a beautiful blue. It is light to the touch with a stunning straight coastline, about 14°C easy to push through. The National Guard provides our rescue cover and they are wonderful to swim with. There is little marine life that we have encountered. The arrivals and departures are fun and we have dressing gowns to wear onboard. We must cover up and not change our swim costumes for the day. On arrival, we have dresses which are fabulous and very easy to wear. The flag covers us as we leave the water. This is all new, but great to respect. We love swimming and then pulling out the flag as we exit. The people are filled with genuine smiles. Frankly, it is nothing like the image we had. They are very happy.

Open Water Source: Can you explain your overall experience?
Nejib is an amazing and fabulous man. His conviction and his commitment is surreal and quite a sight to behold. He is special. A father figure that you just want to help on his journey. This is not just a swim. That is the easy part. This is a life commitment. It is an honour and we are humbled to experience it. Nejib says himself that he is energized by the laughter and fun. It is not easy doing this on your own, getting up every day and trying to battle again a world that is not watching. Anne Marie and I both train alone so we also share this with him.

It has been a fantastic week. Nejib's sense of humour is unbelievable. We laugh continuous. I know whoever comes after us will have an amazing time as long as they understand his journey and Nejib as a person. This is more than a swim; this is a life commitment. The swimming is the easy part.

We are genuinely humbled and have another stage swim tomorrow and then we return home. The open water swimming community is amazing and we hope that they will support his journey as he so deserves. It is what we do for each other. This is one experience that we would never trade.

Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source

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