Taking on the Tickle

The inspirational tickle swim in support of mental health is back an bigger than ever!


The seventh annual Tickle Swim is taking place on August 10. 25 swimmers of all ages and walks of life will be swimming the five kilometre “Tickle” — the channel from Bell Island to the town of Portugal Cove — in support of the Canadian Mental Health Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The first Tickle Swim

Sheilagh O’Leary, the founder of the Tickle Swim, has always been an avid outdoor swimmer as well as an advocate for mental health. She started the event back in 2012. 

“I always had this idea at the back of my mind about how I wanted to swim some sort of channel,” said O’Leary. 

“I’ve had a lot of life experience with individuals who have mental illness. And I said, ‘You know what? If I were to pitch this to CMHA to see about swimming the Bell Island tickle, this would be a great opportunity to raise awareness and some funds. I wasn’t sure if it was just going to be me or what the first year. We started planning, I started training, and we managed to pull on five other swimmers!”

This year’s Tickle Swim has blown up in comparison to it’s humble beginnings seven years ago. This year’s event will see 25 participants swim the Tickle. 

“The event has totally caught fire. People are really interested in this,” said O’Leary. “I think a lot of people are looking for experiential events that push them out of their comfort zone.”

The event caps its swimmers to 25 people for safety reasons. Along with the cap, every swimmer is accompanied by a kayak. Rescue boats, ambulances and the coast guard are also on standby.

Holistic beings

The Tickle Swim tries to spread the message about the correlation between physical and mental health.

“It makes so much sense that physical and mental health is intrinsically intertwined. For me, if I don’t get my hikes in, I’m not in sound mind — I need to have that physical outlet. There’s a really strong connection between the physical and the mental,” said O’Leary.

 “That’s not to say that people who are impacted by mental illness, that being physical is the answer, but it’s certainly a huge part of the solution to helping people cope with mental stress. We’re holistic beings, our minds and our bodies are combined.”

While The Tickle Swim is open to anyone who wants to sign up, participants have to be physically able to tackle both the long distance swim as well as the rough and cold ocean conditions. 

“It is hard. Obviously we are very interested in attracting people who are open-water swimmers who do competitive swimming. But we also leave it open to people who are interested in challenging themselves. That was certainly me in the beginning,” said O’Leary. 

“We’ve seen people who only learned how to swim some years before — who trained, and trained, and trained because it was a real personal challenge that they wanted to achieve.”

Testing the waters

On August 24, The Little Tickle Swim will be hosted on Topsail Beach. Open to anybody, this swim is a one kilometre trek along the shore. It’s a great event for young swimmers and old, and anyone in between who wants to give it a try.

“It gives people an opportunity to — excuse the pun — test the waters,” joked O’Leary. This year, Bell Let’s Talk has gotten behind supporting the swim, but they are always looking for more donations. 

“The bottom line is we raise awareness, but we also raise badly-needed funds for mental health programming in our province.”

Anyone looking to support The Tickle Swim can go to www.tickleswim.com or cmhanl.ca. All the swimmers are registered on The Tickle Swim website, where people can pick a swimmer and pledge any amount they want to the event.

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