It is not very often that I get to meet people that are crazier than me but that is what happened at the International Ice Swimming Association GB Championships. Swimming outdoors in Scotland is cold even during the summer in a wetsuit. What these swimmers endured was breath taking (literally!!)
I had been asked to provide a massage service by Chris Sifleet of Swim4Miles who was hosting the event. I had no idea what to expect other than the fact that there were 93 swimmers and that races would start at 10am and run all day. To set the scene the water temperature was 4.3 degrees and the air temperature a chilling 3.1. To add to the challenge it was incredibly windy and conditions were far from ideal. Many described the swim as more like a sea swim but without the buoyancy given by salt. As a result swim times were longer than anticipated for many and necks and shoulders sore from ‘sighting’ over the swell.
I knew that ice swimming is a serious business and one that requires a gradual build up and acclimatisation to be able to endure the cold and still be able to swim in those conditions. What I hadn’t realised was the extreme pressure swimmers put their bodies under being in such cold conditions in only a swimsuit for more than 20 minutes in many cases. Add to that the fact that many of the swimmers were completing either a 1000m or 500m swim and then competing in the relays later in the day.
Nothing could have prepared me for seeing the swimmers struggling to get warm afterwards. The shivering was like nothing I have ever seen and went on for well over an hour for some swimmers. Not many things shock me but that certainly did. There is no escaping the fact that this is an extreme sport. Talking to the swimmers before and after was inspiring. They all have their own stories as to how they came to take part and are all dare I say it ‘ordinary’ people doing extraordinary things. How amazing that they have found and committed to a sport that they really love. The camaraderie and team spirit was palpable and they all supported each other in any way possible. Swimmers had travelled from South Africa, Cornwall, Chester and all over Scotland. There was a full range of ages competing with varying degrees of experience.
I came away thrilled to have been involved and to have helped to warm up and relax a number of the swimmers. Although ice swimming is very definitely not for me – I can see how much it meant to all the swimmers that I met. What struck me is that when you find your ‘thing’, something that inspires passion and that you commit to, everything else changes. You do things that would not have seemed possible and you find yourself going to new places and meeting like minded people too. What I have taken away from the experience is that we can do far more than we think that we can. The human body is amazing and can be trained to perform incredible feats. If we never challenge ourselves we will never know what we could achieve.
So I want you all to think of something that you have always wanted to do but dismissed as impossible or unlikely to happen. I’m off to get back in that pool and make sure that I do my 2k open water swim in September justice. And this from the girl who refused to go snorkelling all those years ago because there were things in the water. Who knew??!!
I would love to hear your stories and here is your chance to commit to your challenge…