Inspiring Women 4: Siobhán Sheils

You may remember from my last blog post that the roof has fallen in at the local pool! This means I’ve been travelling to Coleraine to swim and I’ve met lots of new people as a result of moving training venue 🙂 . The female changing area is very lively – even early in the morning. When I heard about Siobhán’s current challenge (swimming the equivalent of the Channel during the month of October to raise funds for Macmillan) I wanted to hear more about some of the other challenges she’d done. I was thrilled she agreed to be interviewed for my adventure blog, and here’s what she had to say:

In a nutshell:  ‘Siobhán is still evolving and learning on her journey to become the best human being she can.’
Age: 59 (and 6 months – isn’t just important for Adrian Mole!)
Trains at: Coleraine Leisure Centre
Work: Probation Officer. Specialises in working with those who have committed sexual, domestic violence and public protection offences

1. You’ve done several adventurous challenges over the last few years. Can you tell us what you’ve done and why you decided to take on each particular challenge? My first challenge was in 2015 and it was to climb the highest peak in each province of Ireland.  I fell into this by accident.  I’d always been interested in hill-walking but hadn’t really followed up on it during my married life.  I moved from Derry and made a New Year resolution that I would join a club and swallow any lack of confidence and ‘just go for it’,  Sod’s Law : I met a girl who has become a great friend/walking buddy and we discovered how similar our life experiences were.

Ironically she had lived a few streets away from me and we’d never met before my move out of the town.  Rhonda was uber fit and I just decided I’d just try my best.  We completed Lugnaquilla (Leinster) the last Saturday in May; Mweelrea (Connaught) – without a doubt the most arduous but most rewarding – June; Carrantouhill – highest in Ireland (Munster) July; and Slieve Donard (Ulster) Aug 2015.  Falling on your backside in front of everyone and having to run into bushes to pee is a great equaliser and a reminder we’re all alike.

My next challenge was a 2.5 km swim for Foyle Hospice.  Again, I just fell into this.  After the previous one, I liked the idea of challenging myself/setting a goal more and more.  It was for a very worthwhile cause and Foyle Hospice do incredible work for the terminally ill.  I went to the pool where lots of super strong swimmers were making it look so easy.  I completed it in 1 hour and 29 minutes.  It was funny as, at length 50, I was being clapped for achieving this.  The expression on people’s faces when I continued to the 100 lengths….  I was the last one out.

Without a doubt (in terms of camaraderie) the best challenge was walking the Dublin Marathon (October 2017).  I can’t run because of my ‘gammy’ knee, so thought I’ll try this.  It was incredible walking with others and encouraging each other on.  The laughs we had at ourselves were brilliant.  About 2 miles from the end the finishers in their shirts were out encouraging us to finish.  Brilliant.

2018 – Lap the Lough.  It was a beautiful summer and I decided to take out ‘Betsy’, my very heavy touring bike.  Each day I cycled about 25 miles before/after work.  I went with one of the guys from my spin class one Saturday and we did 40 miles in 3 hours and I didn’t get off my bike once.  Usually if I hit a big hill I get off and walk as I can’t stand up when cycling so everything is being done from seated position and that can be tough.  I thought I’ll  certainly give it a go and try my best.  On the day of the cycle it poured from the heavens and I was soaked right down to my knickers.  I did the 96 miles in under 8 hours.

2018 – Dulux London Revolution:  300 km cycle around London.  I was one of the ‘weekenders’ ( ie. we cycled 103.5 miles on the Saturday, camped overnight in Windsor Racecourse, and cycled 87 miles on the Sunday).  One of the girls in work saw this and suggested it for me.  In hindsight, while I’m happy that I did it, it was probably a bit too much in terms of my fitness levels at the time.  I spent most of the cycle on the Saturday berating myself about how silly I was etc. It was very difficult too knowing that there was more to come the next day.   After being frozen into the tent on the Saturday, listening to some man in another tent loudly singing his own praises, farting or snoring, I decided I was definitely getting on that bike and trying to finish it. It was funny I was dressed in my shorts and trainers with a bottle of Evian water on my hired road bike.  I initially felt very out of place amongst these incredible athletes who were putting on/taking off clothing in sections.  However on one particularly difficult hill at mile 85 on the Saturday a number of them were walking alongside me saying they wished they had trainers as their feet were killing them!

This year I also climbed Carrantouhill again – this time the Devil’s Ladder and descent via Heavenly Gate.  Not good for the knees!  Great achievement and a beautiful day.  To stand at the top of Ireland and be able to see all around – glorious.

I haven’t a notion what’s next.  Maybe next year (my 60th) I’ll challenge myself to no challenge!!

2. Your current challenge is a water-based one. Can you tell us all about it and let us know how you’re getting on with it? My current challenge is to swim the virtual Channel.  That’s 22 miles.  It’s in aid of MacMillan Cancer and I love the idea I don’t have to get into dirty water.  I’m completing a mile a day (I’ve cheated and have had a few days with a few extra yards in order to give myself some leeway).  At this point I’m officially at mile 13 (but in fact have 14.69 miles done).

3. Tell me a little bit about your training regime if you have one. (How often do you train? How do you balance the requirements of training with your work/life?) For most of the events that I take part in I don’t really follow a formal training regime.  For example, when walking and swimming I’m getting fitter each time – so there’s continuous improvement.    No matter what I’m doing I like to complete 15,000 steps each day.  It’s surprising how little of those are during routine things like work or housekeeping so it means adding some walks into my day.  I do this by parking my car about a mile away from work and walking back/forth – if my diary allows.  I really like mornings so I try to do something (walk, swim, cycle -not in winter).  I’m really lucky too that I own my diary, although there are a number of times when I just can’t factor in an exercise.  I no longer let that bother me.

4. What has undertaking these challenges given to you that you didn’t expect? I think my confidence as a person has grown as I’ve undertaken the challenges – not about winning but just about acknowledging my capabilities and willingness to push myself.  I try to incorporate some mindfulness into my exercise routines and feel this has improved my general sense of well-being as well as my ability to be more tolerant of myself and others.

5. I know you from the pool and I see you ploughing up and down at full force. It’s impressive and inspiring! Do you think swimming is a good sport for older women to take up? Swimming is amazing and, as you can see, I don’t do it prettily.  No Sonia O’Sullivan here lol!  I always laugh about the ways I can manoeuvre my body in the water and do moves such as lunges when sometimes I struggle with my knee holding me up.  I think swimming also improves female flexibility and is a great way of boosting confidence – not sure why the latter (maybe it’s having to fight off the men who nearly mow you down 😉 ).

6. As a woman on the other side of the menopause , how do you view your body? Who hasn’t said it?  If only I had a shred of the confidence/self-image that I have now when I was a teenager!  I think I definitely have more respect for my body – I also do a number of no alcohol challenges – September Dryathon; Sober for October; November; Dry January; Feb Fast; Lent and Summer Six-Pack Challenge.  My daughter says she’s given up trying to come home at a time I am drinking.  I think I know my limitations – and that’s not lack of confidence but because I’m aware of what I can/cannot do.

The menopause first affected me through night sweats.  At that time in my life, I lived alone and it was great!  I could throw the bedclothes off/on as I wanted without worrying about anyone else.  I also had hot flushes – generally whenever someone asked me a direct question – my face/neck went bright red as though I was lying through my teeth lol.

I think there was a period (before the challenges) when I became extremely emotional and weepy and fearful about things I hadn’t previously paid any attention to.  For instance, I would lock the car doors when driving through a town in the evening.  I had gained weight prior to starting the challenges but have since gained more muscle. I know I don’t have an athletic build and I’m not small – sometimes I laugh to myself when I see the reaction of people when I say I’ve done such and such.   I think weight is something that I will always struggle with but it doesn’t bother me too much.  I threw out scales about 7 years ago.   I’m a naturally greedy eater, although I generally try to eat unprocessed foods as much as possible.  I’m better at that during Lent – what’s that all about?!!

In terms of mental ability – I’ve never noticed any particular deficits – nothing extra anyway lol 😉 .

7. People talk about women feeling ‘invisible’ once they have gone through the menopause. What do you think about that? Is it true for you? I do think that, over a certain age, women are invisible.  I look back to when I was younger and trying to cross a road and firmly believe that as a woman gets older less cars stop.  Similarly the older I become I feel that males (swimmers) don’t see me.  However, I don’t think though that it’s a feeling that comes from menopause but I can see how if someone is feeling emotionally vulnerable they could connect events when in fact I think older women are invisible to men generally!  I don’t think women are invisible to women though!  I think most adults are invisible to teenagers!  Not sure if that makes sense.

8. Are there any upsides for you about being on the other side of the menopause?  Yes.  I’m glad the night-sweats have stopped and mostly the flushes too.  I think though that I’ve reached another stage of my life and I’m not 100% sure that’s attributable to being post-menopausal or whether I was at a stage of change anyway.  I think on reflection though the menopause is a great opportunity for reflection and moulding your world.

9. What do you have in your sights? (What will you do after your swimming challenge?) I’m not sure.  That’s what I like about this.  I just see something and think  will I/won’t I?  I like the thought/feeling though that the reason not to is not because I don’t think I am capable but rather that it doesn’t appeal to me.

10. What’s your number one piece of advice for post-menopausal women? This is not a rehearsal.  Have a blast.  Be the best you want to be.  Always remember you are incredible and all those experiences have not stopped you one jot.  Ditch the self-help books.

Siobhán’s answers certainly give a lot of food for thought! I’m just going outside to have  wee think about things – and I may be some time 🙂 . (By the way, if you’re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks project here.)

JT 🙂