University of Dundee

Colleen's rare Ireland - Scotland swim raises cash for skin disease charity

11 May 2009

Photo opportunity: 11am, Tuesday May 12th 11am
Wellcome Trust Building,
Old Hawkhill, University of Dundee.

A gruelling swim from Ireland to Scotland has allowed a Dundee woman to raise over £2000 for the skin disease charity DEBRA.

Colleen Blair (31) completed the tough North Channel swim from Carrickfergus in Ireland to Portpatrick in Scotland in September 2008. She is only the ninth person ever to complete the swim, which covers a distance of 23 miles across some of the most difficult waters in the world.

Colleen completed it in 15 hours, and her efforts were named `Swim Of The Year’ by the British Long Distance Swimming Association.

She will present the £2155 she raised through the swim to Professor Irwin McLean, a leading researcher into the skin condition epidermolysis bullosa, a rare genetic condition in which the skin and internal body linings blister at the slightest knock or rub.

Colleen chose DEBRA as she is familiar with the work which goes on here in Professor McLean’s labs - her mum Irene works as a health and safety co-ordinator in the College of Life Sciences at the University.

Colleen, who is a duty leisure manager with Perth & Kinross Leisure, said, “It
was a pleasure to do this swim in aid of such good cause. The swim was a
great personal achievement and one of the hardest swims I have done. I was
inspired and motivated by the work done at Dundee University. When I was going through hard patches in the swim, when I encountered jelly fish , the thought of what the sufferers of EB go through everyday helped me get through. What I suffered, through my own choice, is not nearly as bad as they suffer on a daily basis.”

The charity itself has close Irish-Scottish links, not least through Professor McLean, who is from Northern Ireland.

He said he was stunned by Colleen’s swimming exploits. “Travelling by conventional means between Scotland and Ireland can be time consuming and tiring enough,” said Professor McLean. “The thought of swimming it doesn’t bear thinking about for someone like me, but all credit to Colleen. This is a remarkable effort and the charity depends largely on public fundraising, so this sort of generous act is vital.

“We are making great strides towards developing treatments for people suffering from EB, and every contribution helps us in our efforts.”