The competitive River Corrib swim was not her main reason for coming to Galway but Ulrika, who describes herself as a “dark horse”, searched for swimming competitions and training partners on the Internet before she left Sweden.
Although she gave up competitive swimming at just 14 years of age, she is an acclaimed Masters (Over 25s) competitor in her native country.
“I looked for a competition or an event, or perhaps just for a group to train with here in Ireland. I didn’t find a group on the Internet. I didn’t find much information about Masters swimming for the Over-25s, but I saw information about this swim and I decided to sign up.”
Ulrika got a taxi to the start of the race at the Glenlo Abbey Hotel, on the edge of the city. She was given a huge round of applause when she finished the 4km race in a time of just 54 minutes, despite facing into choppy waters and strong winds.
“This was a race for people over 18. Perhaps if the 16 and 17 year olds had participated, I would not have won. The key is endurance and stamina, rather than speed. I was a sprinter when I was young. I now race longer distances,” she says.
Swimming in Sweden has allowed her to make many friends and she says that people never comment about her age when she competes against teenagers.
“I try to maintain my level by working out four times a week, for one hour and a half. I usually work out with teenagers. I like to push myself and to be pushed. My children used to be swimmers so I know the teenagers. I am just Emma’s mother to them!”
Winning the competition on Saturday has turned Ulrika into an instant sporting sensation in Galway. She has been invited to train with competitive swimmers and water polo enthusiasts along the waterfront in Salthill, near the impressive GCI building on the shores of Galway Bay.
Ulrika reports that both she and Emma have loved their time at GCI. She teaches Spanish at an international school in Malmo, which is the third biggest city in Sweden, and her husband comes from Argentina. She loves the kind of multicultural environment she found at GCI over the past two weeks.
Why study in Galway?
“I love meeting people from other cultures and backgrounds. I am also used to it, as Malmo is a very multi-cultural city and I teach Spanish at an international school. 60% to 70% of the students are international,” she says.
Ulrika and her daughter have made friends with international students from a variety of countries and she has enjoyed activities such as swimming in Leisureland, the school’s popular weekly Pub Night, and the organised trip to the Cliffs of Moher in Co Clare, which they booked at the language school.
She was hugely impressed by Lally Tours, who organised her day trip to Clare.
“Studying at GCI has been a fantastic experience,” she says. “Emma and I are staying with the same host family. My daughter wanted to have it that way. We have dinners and chats with the host family. I have been out for a beer or two with other adult students,” she says.
“I have been out twice for Pub Night. I have enjoyed all the activities, including the Irish football, a boat trip on the Corrib, and the walking tour of the city. I enjoyed it on my second day. We were given expert information by one of the teachers. It gives you another perspective on the place. It makes you see details that you would not have seen otherwise.”
Always one for an adventure, she tried out a Gaelic football session one afternoon with teacher David and some of the students. David could not believe she had researched all of the rules of the game before she took to the field, as Ulrika likes to do her homework before taking on any project, big or small.
“Galway is a really safe city. It’s more laid back than Dublin. I would feel safe sending Emma here on her own next year. I would not have felt so safe in a bigger city,” she says.
She has been quite surprised by how friendly, warm-hearted, and open the people of Galway have been during her time in GCI.
“I am a bit surprised regarding the Irish people. I think they are more Latin than they think. They are warmer, more open-hearted than they realise. Perhaps in the English-speaking world, the Irish people are the Latin ones! I see many family-friendly events going on, teenagers cheering and having fun, and I really like the Irish society and the values of Irish people I have experienced here.
“My experience of Ireland was also really positive last year. We saw the potential in Ireland last year. If you ask me, I would recommend Galway as a great place to visit and to study in. The best thing of all is the people, who are so warm-hearted, open, and full of life!”
-- * Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, in October 2018. Find him on Facebook or Twitter here. Visit his website here - CiaranTierney.com. A former newspaper journalist, he is seeking new opportunities in a digital world.