Like many Jamaica Plain residents, Maura Twomey will head to the ocean this summer. But the 59-year-old Hyde Square business owner is likely the only one who plans to swim all the way from England to France.
Twomey plans to swim the English Channel in mid-July as a fundraiser for a specialty program at Ireland’s Cork University Hospital, where her grand-nephew receives treatment for cystic fibrosis.
“No sleep, no breaks, no nothing,” Twomey says of the epic swim she faces—a nonstop race against the tides that will be 23 miles long at its shortest. She says it will take strength and some luck with the weather, “but then there’s a lot about training your own mind and heart.”
Known as the owner of Centre & Spring Acupuncture at 398 Centre St., Twomey is also an experienced open-water swimmer who has tackled Boston Harbor, among other big swims.
Born in Dublin, Twomey came to Massachusetts in the 1980s on what was supposed to be a temporary career break. She ended up moving to JP in 1990 while studying at Simmons College. After some unsatisfying years working at big companies, she started the acupuncture business a decade ago.
Swimming became a part of her life around the time she moved to JP, when she would “tuck over to Curtis Hall” and its pool. She worked her way up to open-water swimming, and tried a highly challenging annual swim around San Francisco’s infamous Alcatraz prison island a decade ago. She said that was more than she was ready for at the time, but she built her skills with a group of local open-water swimmers.
“They’re incredibly inclusive,” she said of the open-swimming scene. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a triathlete or an overweight 40-year-old. You go through the miseries together.”
Doing harbor swims and other outings with the group became a “gradual stepping stone” to the idea that she could swim the English Channel. The channel swim became a famed challenge in 1875, when Capt. Matthew Webb first completed it successfully. It is now overseen by governing agencies that validate successful swims.
For Twomey, the swim is more than a personal achievement. Rian Forde, her niece’s 4-year-old son in Blarney, requires hospital treatment for cystic fibrosis, which makes him especially vulnerable to communicable diseases. But CUH, like many hospitals, does not have a special isolation ward for such children. Twomey aims to raise 20,000 Euros (about $23,000) for the charity Build4Life, which helps hospitals create such facilities.
“I think my grand-nephew takes 30 to 40 pills a day,” Twomey said, explaining that many people don’t understand how serious cystic fibrosis is.
Twomey has been training for the swim for about two years and recently attended a special cold-water swimming camp in Ireland. The channel water likely will be in 55 to 65 degree range, she said.
The swim must be done with a certified boat pilot who monitors and advises the swimmer, but offers no help beyond tossing down the occasional drink or snack—“something you can put in your mouth and keep moving.”
There’s no assistance, no stopping, and no protective gear beyond a swimsuit, cap and goggles. Weather is unpredictable, and some segment of the swim—which can take a full day or more—will be in the dark.
“You’ll have some glow sticks stuck to your suit,” Twomey said casually.
The swim does require reasonably good weather. Twomey has slated July 9 through 13 as her swimming window, which leaves some room for unpredictable weather.