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Dinn siblings tickled to take a dip to support mental health fundraiser

By Craig Westcott/October 14, 2022

It’s the jellyfish that bothers her. That and not knowing what’s trawling below your feet in the deep, dark, cool waters of the bay.

But those fears didn’t stop Morgan Dinn, 26, and her sisters Amanda, 30 and Lauren, 28, from signing up for the 10th Annual Tickle Swim for mental health last month, a five-km feat of endurance across the choppy waters of the channel between Portugal Cove and Bell Island.

It turned out, the swim had to be scrapped because of weather.

That didn’t stop the Paradise siblings though from getting their strokes in for a good cause.

So, instead of swimming the tickle, they packed their wetsuits and headed to Holyrood for a five km swim from the inner bay to the beach. By the end of it, they had shared a bond of endurance and raised nearly $6,000 for the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Myself and Amanda actually did the Tickle swim in 2019,” said Morgan. “That was our first time doing it and we still say to this day it’s one of the best things we’ve ever done. And then of course my other sister wanted to try it too. So, this year we finally had all three of us home after the pandemic and we said, ‘Okay, let’s do it again.’ The best thing for us was that it was a mental health fundraiser. So yes, as much as it was a personal challenge for us, it was for a good cause that kind of hits home for all three of us.”

The Dinns are good athletes, with Morgan best known for her prowess on the soccer pitch. And they are all swimmers. But swimming the bay is much different than dipping a toe in a peaceful pond. The camaraderie of swimming the tickle as part of a group makes it less daunting, something Morgan learned in 2019.

“It was just an incredible event. Everyone involved was so encouraging and motivating and proud of each other, and you really come together as a big group to make it happen and support each other,” she said. “Myself and Amanda, and the same for Lauren, have always swam growing up and we loved swimming, but we didn’t do a lot of ocean swimming. And the thought of actually swimming across the channel, swimming from Portugal Cove to Bell Island, was very intimidating and scary for us. So as soon as we got to Bell Island and hit the beach, it was crazy, it was a huge achievement for us personally, just to get through it and it’s a huge physical challenge. But honestly, it’s more of a mental challenge than anything. It was the most rewarding feeling to finish it and actually do it. And the money that you fundraise for mental health, just knowing that it goes toward mental health, especially with the pandemic the past few years – everyone knows someone who has been affected by mental illness, or has struggled. So, this year kind of meant a bit more to us. We liked it even more this year even though we didn’t get to Bell Island this year. It was very needed.”

The Holyrood swim took a little more than two hours, about the same amount of time the Dinns would have swam if they had done the tickle. And they used the same battle plan and team they had assembled for the tickle swim.

“Everybody has a kayaker with them, and they are basically five feet away from you the whole time, watching you and making sure you’re okay,” said Dinn. “If you’re like myself and you don’t like jellyfish you can just go on over and hold on to the front of your kayaker’s boat and take a break. They have your water, they have snacks, they encourage you, they tell you how far you have gone. But the biggest thing with the kayakers is they guide you. Because when you’re swimming you can’t really see where you’re going, you can’t tell where the beach is on Bell Island, you just see this big rock and then a bunch of waves. So, your kayaker really is the one who guides you in the right direction and makes sure you don’t get taken by a current or anything like that. You really rely on your kayaker. That, to me, is really one of the most important parts, having someone there with you. I don’t know if I’d ever be able to do it without someone right next to me in a kayak… And it kind of correlates with mental health – you need people to guide you, you need those supports, you cannot do the tickle swim without the support of everyone around you.”

The sisters were lucky, she added, to have had three great kayakers paired with them.

“Sarah Smith was my kayaker, then we had Nick Dawe and Chris Cowling, and Nick has an incredible resume for being able to rescue people out of the water,” said Dinn. “He also owns a sailboat and a zodiac boat. So, we were super grateful to have Nick, Chris and Sarah on board with us. We could not have done it without them.”

It was Dawe who made the quick pivot from the tickle to Holyrood possible.

“We talked to him and said, ‘Can we make an ocean swim happen and do it safely?’ And he scouted out Holyrood and told us our options, figured out 5 kms and so with him in the sailboat and Chris in the zodiac going around to check on everyone we went out on the sailboat, jumped off the boat and swam into the beach five kms,” Dinn said. “We really wanted to do it in the ocean. That was the biggest challenge for us. We did a lot of training in Octagon Pond, and it just didn’t feel as much of a challenge to get into the pond that we had been training in. We wanted the ocean, for sure.”

And the jellyfish? They can come in pods, or schools, or whatever it is you call a bunch of jellyfish swimming together.

Dinn discovered there were more jellyfish in Holyrood than in the tickle.

“Most of the jellyfish we have here are moon jellyfish – so I’ve been told,” she said. “They’re pretty harmless. They’re just a little white jellyfish that are seen everywhere. Lion’s Mane jellyfish might give you a little sting. When you’re swimming the tickle, most people have a full wetsuit on and hat and goggles. If you’re going to feel a sting, it will be on your hands and feet or your face.”

Most of the people who were lined up for the Tickle swim are seasoned swimmers, Dinn said, who can capably swim for five kms.

Training for such a challenge is important.

“We never trained alone,” she said. “It was always with someone or two of us together. Even in Octagon Pond we were always extra safe. We also sometimes brought the paddle boat out and we would have a friend paddle in Octagon Pond while we swam, because you never know. I don’t think I would ever swim the tickle without a kayaker. Safety is the most important thing with the event.”

With Morgan working as a physiotherapist at Paradise Physio, Lauren having just graduated from veterinary school in St. Kitt’s, and Amanda serving as a public health officer in Clarenville, the training was also a way to spend time together as their lives get busier and their connections stretch out.

While she was disappointed, at first, about the tickle swim being cancelled, it turned out good. Two other swimmers from the Tickle event joined the Dinns in swimming to Holyrood, Dawn Curran and Jennifer Guy. “They both wanted to do an ocean swim too, so they reached out and asked if they could join us and they had their own kayakers as well who came with them,” said Morgan. “There was a lot of people involved, but I can’t name them all… “I don’t think we could have done a better job at doing the next best thing. With the help of the people who helped us out, we did the best we could do with what we were given. We couldn’t change the weather, so we scouted out to see what we could do that was still in the ocean, still terrifying, still a challenge and I’m very happy with how it worked out. We got out of the water feeling just as good as if we had gotten to Bell Island… It’s about mental health awareness and ending stigma around mental health… The money you raise goes to the Canadian Mental Health Association of Newfoundland and Labrador and they use those funds to start programs and fund programs to help people who need it”.

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