I found my tribe

Ruth Fitzmaurice shares an extract from her acclaimed memoir. Plus win a copy of her book.

Alison Mckenny

Ruth Fitzmaurice lives in Greystones, Co Wicklow, Ireland, with her husband Simon, who has motor neurone disease, and their five young children. In her new raw and joyful memoir ‘I found my tribe’ she writes about life after her husband’s MND diagnosis, and the solace and solidarity she found swimming at Ladies Cove, Greystones. Here follows an extract, and a chance to win the book.

“My husband is a wonder to me but is hard to find. I search for him in our home. He breathes through a pipe in his throat. He feels everything but cannot move a muscle. I lie on his chest counting mechanical breaths. I hold his hand but he doesn’t hold back. His darting eyes are the only windows left. This little house of ours holds a lot. A family of five young children, a father who can only move his eyes, a mass of medical equipment that hums and squeaks. The footfall in this house is high. Nurses and carers steer tactfully around us. Lint balls gather in corners. My husband needs a ventilator to breathe and a person to stay with him at all times. Often that person is me.

There is a secret society of the hurt.  We gather on a stony beach that may as well be a deserted car park.  We swap pain silently like illegal contraband. Still fully dressed we stand clustered against the wind.  Shoes get removed first, collectively.  It’s our wordless signal to stop hesitating.  This swim is on. Teeth hold my towel in place with a face grimace as I negotiate limbs into my flowery swimsuit. We may have walked in from the shore that first day and then swum to the steps.  First-timers soon learn that diving straight in from the steps is best.  My battered body gives a brief shy shiver, finding itself in a swimsuit in September, but it’s short lived.

Ruth Fitzmaurice

My mind relaxes as soon as I smell the air and my feet touch rock. Cold sea can blow those flies away in one swoosh! Three dives later I know that real magic is here. The stones hold secrets and the dread in my heart flows free. It is so solitary and dream-like I wonder if it is real. Twenty minutes later I am home.

I don’t believe we are just numbing ourselves in this sea. I look at my friends coping and surviving. Like the rolling of waves, the thrill of the dive, the rush of cold, they choose to stay unchained. This is as free as we can possibly get.

I know I can be brave as long as the waves keep pounding. That’s just what waves do. The sea is my salvation.  It shocks my body back to life.  My soul is calmer and refreshed and content when I climb back up the steps. The cove is my tribe and the sea saves me.

Swims clean the cobwebs from my mind, like clearing the laundry basket with a good run of washes.

I am a woman restored.”

I don’t believe we are just numbing ourselves in this sea. I look at my friends coping and surviving. Like the rolling of waves, the thrill of the dive, the rush of cold, they choose to stay unchained. This is as free as we can possibly get.

Win a copy of I Found My Tribe

We have three copies of Ruth’s wonderful memoir to give away. To enter the competition please submit your tribe spot i.e. either the location of your swim club or simply your favourite swim spot with a sentence on why this is your spot on wildswim.com. Once you’ve created your tribe spot, email the URL to wildswimmap@gmail.com. Please note only winners will be notified. To view example of a swimmer’s entry please click and scroll down here

I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice (Chatto & Windus, £14.99) is out now

Words : Ruth Fitzmaurice