In the winter, one great way to test your toughness is to take a quick “penguin plunge” into the icy water. However, some stoic swimmers take this to the next level, carving pools out of frozen lakes and racing each other. The sport of “winter swimming” is popular abroad, especially in China, Scandinavia and Russia. Last weekend, however, a newly-formed organization to promote winter swimming in the US held its first national competition on the Vermont-Quebec border. Competitors from around the world wrapped in down coats waited in a warm lakeside restaurant in Newport, VT, for the races to start. Over two dozen people from around the country raced in a two-lane pool cut into the icy lake.
As one hometown favorite, Bryanna Tucker, described it, the experience is acclimating to the cold, since most people forget that cold actually feels good. If you have a sore knee, she explains, or a sore elbow, you put an ice pack on it. The first nine seconds of swimming in the ice might be horrible, but around the 10th second, she says that her body shuts down in an “oddly relaxing” way. Another participant, Elaine Howley of Waltham, MA, says that these races are a lot shorter and colder than her earlier dive in the English Channel. She says that she isn’t entirely sure as to how she’ll perform in the race.
On the lake, a generator hums, meant to keep the 30-degree water from freezing over. However, it’s so cold that a few swimmers need to keep fishing out ice chunks as they wait for the day to warm up a bit. Guests come from as far off as Latvia, such as Aleksandr Yaklovev, who says that he and his teammates take regular cold showers during racing season. The sport of cold-water swimming has been around for a long time; even the ancient Greeks used to partake. Cold water swimming released natural endorphins, and some cold-water swimmers believe that they’re the best endorphins that you can get from nature. The swimmers make a point to never stay in the water long enough to get hypothermia.