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Cabin Fever: I've seen my life flashing before my eyes in three car crashes ..sailing around Ireland in a little boat will not hold any fear for me! EXCLUSIVE.

Byline: JIM GALLAGHER

THE star of a tough new TV game show has no fears over her forthcoming ordeal... because she has already survived THREE horrific car crashes.

Blonde beauty Ciara Dunne is set to become a household name on new RTE reality TV series Cabin Fever which begins next week.

But the 23-year-old graphic designer from Carlow says she is not worried about the gruelling challenges she faces sailing around Ireland with nine strangers in an historic sailing ship.

And that's because she has already faced more personal traumas than most people have to deal with in a lifetime.

Three years ago she was in a shocking accident with her mum Noeleen and a friend after a car pulled on to the road in front of them.

"We were coming from a funeral and my mother, who was driving, had to swerve to avoid the other car and we ended up spinning 180 degrees before the car flipped over on to its side.

"Fortunately we were wearing our seat belts because I was always going on about wearing them after the previous accidents.

"I was hanging from mine and I remember my mum being lifted out.

"Her back was very badly damaged and it will cause her problems in years to come. I also had a lot of back pain and damaged tissue which made it hard to work.

"It was a horrific crash and a very traumatic experience for me, my mum and my friend. It was also my last two weeks in college which made finishing my pieces and projects very difficult."

Three years before that Ciara was in another smash-up with her then boyfriend, receiving permanent scars in her legs from the car radio controls. She had not been wearing a seat belt.

The first accident happened when the champion Irish dancer was just nine after she had competed in a dancing final in Leinster House. A car which jumped a red light smashed into the side of the family car.

"The force of the crash pushed us off the road and my mum and sister were injured because they were on that side of the car.

"What is really annoying is that none of the crashes were our fault. But I know what it is like to have control taken away from you. I can face anything."

Ciara is hoping that the next two months - during which she competes for a d100,000 prize in the show - will be a bit more plain sailing.

She was chosen from more than 6,000 applicants to take part in the reality TV programe which has replaced the popular Treasure Island.

For two months viewers will see the sailors put through gruelling tests.

Each week the public will vote for their favourite shipmate - and the least popular will be evicted by walking the plank. The last one on board claims the prize.

Ciara said she was thrilled at getting this 'chance of a lifetime'.

And as a single girl she said she was not averse to a bit of on-board romance.

"Is this a love boat? You will just have to tune in and see. If something happens, it happens.

"We have only met each other and we all get on very well. But I am not going to say if I have seen any prospects."

Another single woman bound to turn heads on board is former model Fiona McGonnell, 30, a Dublin IT consultant.

But the beauty admits she would rather be covered in mud in a swamp in Thailand than in make-up on a catwalk.

"The programme seems to be pushing me as the sexy model but that is not me at all," said the six footer.

"I did do modelling for a year after college but I was not suited to it.

"There was a lot of dieting involved and I am not a natural Kate Moss.

"I decided the dieting and lifestyle was not for me so I went and did a postgrad instead."

Fiona returned last year from two and a half years in Australia where she worked in IT and travelled extensively.

"I was backpacking around Australia and Thailand for six months and am used to travelling and to being with strangers in rough conditions.

"Conditions are cramped on the boat but I don't think that will bother me.

"I've been through Thailand sweating buckets and it didn't bother me."

Someone who knows he won't get sea sick over the next few weeks is ex-Royal Navy, former boxer and now security firm boss Dean Ward.

The married Dubliner, 33, who has a 22-month-old daughter Sile, spent four and a half years at sea.

"I saw the ad for Cabin Fever on the TV and I was dialing the number before it had finished. I even missed the bit about the d100,000 prize," he said.

"I knew straightaway I wanted to be on it. I loved the navy but it wasn't a life for a married man and I wanted to get married and have a family."

Twenty stone Dean admits the hardest part will be physical challenges.

"I havn't trained since giving up boxing five years ago and I have put on six stone.

"Food will not be a problem as I don't actually eat that much - it's just I don't exercise."

By coincidence, Dean's former boxing coach was Tom Barton, runner-up in last year's Treasure Island.

Anyone thinking of causing a row with big Dean on the ship might have to think again.

"I have a temper and it used to be fierce. In my youth it was nearly uncontrollable now I have control over it. But I'm as human as the next man.

"There will be rows on board - I know that 100 per cent. People will be under a lot of stress.

"Doing security work I have had people threaten me with knives but nothing has come of it.

"If you stand up to it they will back off, if you handle it right. I would rather talk myself out of trouble rather than resort to violence."

Cat Sheridan, 26, is another sailor shipmates will not want to mess with - she has a black belt in taekwon-do.

The Cork girl is hyper-active and says she worries about lack of sleep.

"I get really cranky if I don't get enough sleep and I know it is going to be tough," said the civil engineer.

There will be no romance for Cat as she is marrying 'gorgeous' New Zealander Dean Wilson in December.

DJ Lee Gooch, 30, who works for Derry radio station Q102, admits he has a problem - sleep talking.

He kept his new shipmates awake on a training weekend in Blessington.

"They were walking around saying, 'where's that whore from Donegal, we want to string him up'," laughed Lee, from Letterkenny.

"The angrier they got, the more I laughed. I am just a rough old buck - a country half-wit - looking for a bit of craic.

"I am entering this with no negative thoughts. This is a once in a lifetime chance. Sailing on a ship like this would cost you thousands.

"I am going to have fun and I am not in it for the money at all. I could be walking the plank after two weeks so it's no good getting my hopes up.

"But maybe I should bring tape for my mouth and a peg for my nose."

It could be a fun two months.

CAPTION(S):

SHIP-SHAPE: Gorgeous Ciara says that after being involved in three car crashes, nothing fazes her about taking part in RTE's Cabin Fever; SEALEGS: Dean was in the Navy; TRAVELLER: Fiona is a former model; YACHT A GUY: Self-styled country bumpkin Lee says it's a chance of a lifetime; GRIP MATE: Neville Fitzpatrick; CREWED UP: The contestants will be competing a series of challenges for the amazing top prize of 3100,000
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Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Jun 1, 2003
Words:1322
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