Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Talented and tough. Cool, courageous and composed. Well-traveled, well-mannered and well-spoken.

Lots of words can describe Colleen Mallon of Ireland, a nominee for the 2014 World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year, but when she explains her own feelings and sensations crossing the North Channel between Scotland and Ireland, her tenacity is easy to imagine and understand.

When you first get in the North Channel, you know it’s going to be cold, but you can’t imagine the cold in the waters of Northern Ireland. It’s cold like you’ve never felt before.

You feel as though you’re being smothered.

Imagine putting your hands and feet into two buckets of ice and leaving it there for hours your body is being tossed in a washing machine. And try to keep your mind in a parallel universe, thinking of anything except what your body is going through. At this point, you need to try and relax, and tell yourself there’s a reason why not many people have achieved this, and you’ve done the training to get here.

After time passes, it’s like every injury, every strain, everything and anything you ever had from any junior sports. The cold just goes straight to those weak links. I’ve had two knee reconstructions for example as a comparison. So you have a list as long as the Great Wall of China telling you why you should get out. So it feels like there are a million reasons to get out, but only half a reason to stay in.

Your hands and feet are completely numb by this point – the claw fingers. You’ve lost all feeling. Then your limbs start to numb and become heavy – like blocks of ice that you’re lugging through the water.

As I progressed through my swim, the conditions become harder and rougher, so my mind was my greatest weapon and mental strength my only asset in the end.

Overall, your body and mind goes to a place that it’s never been before. A really dark place.

I used lots of positive messaging and meditations to keep me going and to help me remember why I wanted to achieve this and who I was doing it for.

You don’t do these swims for honour or recognition. You do them for yourself. You want to step outside the ordinary. You do them for all the people who have encouraged you along the way and given up their time and energy to support you

Mallon‘s nomination for the World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year read, “Between competitions and coaching in Australia and Ireland, 2014 has been a busy year for the 28-year-old athlete. In a record-breaking time of 9 hours 56 minutes, Mallon achieved a crossing of the notoriously difficult North Channel, setting a new Irish record and racking up the third fastest time in history. She was on track to smash the overall record in the 11ºC waters when the weather turned; faced with Force 5 winds and 5-foot waves, Mallon pushed through a wall of pain to become only the eighth female to complete this swim. Never complaining, never questioning, Mallon is a greatly appreciated personality in the open water world, always rising to meet new challenges and inspire those around her. For her humble, calm and unassuming nature, for her competitiveness in openwater swimming and 70.3 Ironman triathlons, for her motivational coaching of junior swimmers and encouragement of other athletes, Colleen Mallon is a worthy nominee for the 2014 World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year.

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association