Building a Better Health Service


Cork based PHN Audrey Burkley who completed the Alcatraz to San Francisco swim as well as her own Port of Cork swim

In the year that she fulfilled her own swimming dream, a Cork Public Health Nurse has urged carers to look after their own health and keep active.

It’s been a tough 12 months for Audrey Burkley but her swims have helped her after a serious bout of pneumonia and caring for her father, who is now living with dementia.

Earlier in the summer, Audrey took part in the famous swim from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco.  In September, she then completed her dream swim from the Port of Cork to Cobh in the line of St Coleman’s Cathedral, a distance of approximately 16km.

“I have been planning it for the last two years but you have to get permission from the Port of Cork as you are swimming down a shipping channel. I completed it assisted in three hours 36 minutes,” she said.

She explained the value of swimming to her.

“For me to de-stress I need to swim and I feel great afterwards. It gets the adrenaline going. It is so important for carers to take up some form of activity. My father has dementia so all the family are involved in his care and with assistance of a home help five mornings a week and Meals on Wheels,” said Audrey.

“I find looking after my father very tiring as both my brother and I work full-time and it is so hard to see him forgetting things. My life now has changed but caring for my father is so important to me.

“I rarely go out as my time now is caring for my father, working and swimming when I can. I train both in Myrtleville, Cork and Sandycove outside Kinsale.”

audrey burkley

Audrey has become a prolific swimmer, travelling all around Europe for her swims. July brought her as far afield as California.

“I am involved with the Coco Channel Team and we completed the swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco, 3.8km in rough conditions. Then in a six-person relay team, all Irish ladies, we completed the Catalina Channel. This is a channel stretching between Santa Catalina Island and Los Angelas in California. The Catalina Channel is 21 miles long. We completed this Channel in 11 hours 37 minutes.”

During the summer, she completed Ned Denison’s Distance Camp which was nine days of swimming in interesting locations.

“The highlight was the torture swim which I enjoyed this is to prepare you psychologically when you are doing a long swim. They send you in all different directions trying to confuse you and the boat speeds up around you making it very lumpy as you swim but it’s great fun. There are lots of different tricks they play on the swimmers,” she said.

It has been extra difficult for Audrey this year as she came down with pneumonia and ended up being admitted to hospital.

“Things could have been a lot worse if I had not taken the flu vaccination. I work as a school vaccination public health nurse so I understand the importance of vaccination,” she said.

She urged people to give sea swimming a try, highlighting the many physical and emotional benefits it can bring to you.

“Anyone can learn to swim at any age, start with the pool first and build up your confidence with swimming lessons. One you are competent in the pool, then try and venture into the sea,” she said. 

“Always remember with sea swimming that you swim with company, wear a safety float around your waist and the location is safe for swimming. One needs to take into account the weather and the tides and the sea conditions can change so quickly. 

“I am a slow swimmer but swimming is my passion. There are so many marathon swimmers in Cork and these numbers are continually increasing.”