Outdoor Swimming in Argentina and Chile #alotusrises #wsc

Nadia Rang is an outdoor swimmer from Argentina. She got in touch with our Women’s Swimming Collective on Instagram. Her pictures of swimming in Argentina are epic and we wanted to find out more about her swim journey from river swims to winter swimming in the snow! Here she shares her story.

My mom took me to the pool when I was still a baby, she was afraid of water and didn’t want me to have the same fear. I never swam in order to race, I always did it because it was good for me and I found it really soothing.

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Some years ago, a professor took me to an open water race, and that was it for me. It was a 500m race in a river. The place was not the nicest but I couldn’t believe I hadn’t done it before! I loved it – Swimming outdoors is one of the best things I have done! So, I started doing it regularly. But there was a problem; it only lasted during the summer months. After that I had to go back to the pool and wait at least 7 month to swim outdoors again.

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Last year I found out about a group of crazy people that swims outdoor during the hole year and without a wetsuit! So, I went to Chile for 4 days and learned that I could do it too.

When I got there, it was snowing, and I started wonder why am I doing this?! Why am I here?? It was too difficult and too crazy… But the instructors talked us through how it  would feel (like knives carving our skin when we entered the water!), and how we needed to control our breathing to be able to swim. After all that talk, they took us to the lake… ‘OMG I don’t want to take my clothes off, it’s snowing for god sake!’ But everyone was doing it, so I did it too.

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Some people started swimming fast, in the first dip. I put my feet into the water, and started wondering again, what am I doing here?! One guy, that was as afraid as I was, turned to me and said ‘Let’s not think about the cold, just watch where we are swimming, look at the mountains and the beauty of this place’, so, we started swimming…

 

That day I learned not only about how to swim in cold waters, but also that swimming is a group experience, something to share with friends and a way of making new and great friends. It was an incredible experience! The first time is really hard, but if you learn to relax, the feeling is unique. The water was at 6 degrees and outside it was snowing.

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On that first winter swimming adventure,  I met a group of friends and we started planning a lot of activities to do together. In August 2017, we went to México and swam our first OceanMan! 10km in the beautiful sea of Cozumel, such a nice experience. Now in November we are going to cross the Rio de la Plata river, the widest river in the world, 42km. In 2018 we are hoping to cross the Gibraltar Strait. I’m always looking for new experiences and places to go swimming and I don’t mind if it’s summer or winter –  I just go! So now I’m one of those crazy crazy people that swims everywhere during the whole year without a wetsuit! I think anyone can do it – Do you dare to try it too??

Out of the water a Lotus Rises – Thank you Nadia!

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Ellery McGowan #alotusrises

Ellery McGowan is an outdoor swimmer with a swim cv and sense of adventure that inspires the swimming community. Her swim highlights include Lake Zurich, Ederle, Manhattan, Toroneos Gulf and Kalamata plus 5 Channel relays and 4 Winter Swimming Championships, Most recently she completed an All Women Relay of the English Channel, setting a new record for the Oldest Women’s Channel Relay, with a combined age of 393. Team Members were Irene Keel (76), Ellery McGowan (70),Chris Pitman (66), Dee Richards (62) Sally Minty Gravett (59) and Kathy Batts (57) and the time taken to cross was 15 hours and 17 minutes. Ellery is also a swim teacher and swimming coach at Charterhouse.

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Ellery at Tooting Lido (note the leaf is not a tattoo!). Credit Ellery McGowan

In 2015 Ellery’s son James, an accomplished athlete, passed away from Adult Sudden Death Syndrome and she is now using swimming as a platform to raise awareness of Cardiac Risk in the Young , an organisation which draws attention to the range of conditions that can cause young sudden cardiac death. Each week in the UK at least 12 fit and healthy young people die of undiagnosed heart conditions. She has raised several thousand dollars in 2015 alone by her challenge undertaking “5 Swims in 5 Countries for a Five Star Son”.

A Lotus Rises caught up with Ellery to talk about her swimming journey, what inspires her and her adventures.

Why did you start outdoor swimming?

I taught myself to swim at aged 5 in an estuary in Tasmania and later swam in rivers and dams. There were no swimming pools in the vicinity of where I lived. However I took up masters swimming when I moved to Germany on 1991 and as I had never been in a club I could not even kick 25metres. I competed in Masters but in 2004 saw a stand in Riccione for SwimTrek and signed up for my first trip to Turkey. I loved every minute of it, swimming the Hellespont and a 10km swim across to Bozcaada among other swims. I felt at home once again.

What have been the highs and lows in your swimming journey and how do you stay motivated?

My first open water race was at the World Masters in Edmonton  in 2005 where I came back with a gold medal which surprised me…. That was a high!

My lowest of low was not making it to France as a solo in 2015. I was pulled out after 11 hours in the French Shipping lane. I hate not finishing what I set out to do and not completing Rottnest in February due to the strong currents and not making the cut-off was also disappointing

What do you think are the three most important things for effective swim training?

I train regularly but think self- discipline, consistency in training and motivation to do so and cross training are essential.

What three tips do you have for swimmers new to open water?

  • Swim with an open mind
  • Enjoy the experience- every swim will be different.
  • Don’t put stress on oneself by hoping to finish in an unrealistic time.
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Ellery enjoying the 30km Kalamata Swim in  2016. Credit Ellery McGowan

How do you prepare for your swim challenges?

I am fortunate that I can train by myself and have the self-discipline to do so, but I also go on training camps to be with like- minded people.

I have a feeding plan which works for me and I have used for the last seven years! (Maxim and High5 isogel alternating along with half a banana every 3 hours)

A “Tupperware” box goes with me containing “ouch” for jelly fish stings, Voltaren for inflammation, ibuprofen for pain relief, an anti-histamine cream, sturgeron for sea sickness, night lights, safety pins etc. I cannot recall when I last used any of these apart from Voltaren on my 30km Kalamata swim last September.

How do you avoid injury?

I listen to my body but after a shoulder injury over 10 years ago I concentrated on my technique. I do two Pilates sessions a week, one yoga and a gyrotonics to keep my body supple and for core strength. I also do two spin classes for cardio.

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Ellery and her record setting Channel Relay friends! Credit Ellery McGowan

Why did you do the English Channel relay? How was it?! 

We had planned to do a two way in 2015 but were weathered out and managed to start a one way. However a massive storm hit us for the last few hours. I remember at 11:00 at night swimming in lightening and hail for the whole of my swim with everyone else in the cabin of Anastasia sheltering. Two hours later the seas became rough, the boat was lifted out of the water as winds reached 40 knots and we had to call it a day for safety just 2 miles off the French Coast.

Kathy re-booked with Eddie Spelling for this year , first on the tide but as the weather was not so good we went a day early, with just one replacement member due to injury. The first relay was four months before James died and this was the first time I had been in the Channel since. We all felt the cold after our first night swim which was pretty rough too but we had a full moon which was beautiful. Conditions smoothed out during my second leg but the third was magical coming towards the white cliffs of Les Escalles. I swam very hard and was just 17 minutes from the landing. I felt James was with me all the way in that glorious sunshine.

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Ellery McGowan

Has swimming helped cope with your bereavement?

Most definitely. I think of him a lot during my swims and I know the money I raise is now going towards research and screening. We have two days of screening planned at Charterhouse in June which will be covered by money from James’ memorial fund.

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Most of all I look back and know that the cold water swimming has put me in a good place. I have no problem in getting into -0.2 water in Siberia with air at -15 and swimming a 100m race. The feeling afterwards is always elating.

Your swimming accomplishments range from marathon swims to winter swimming championship medals – do you have a favourite swim and also, what next?

Every swim is different because of the elements, but I think possibly Toroneos Gulf has been my favourite. I was invited to do this by a Greek marathon swimmer whom I met on “The Big Blue” after swimming Manhattan. He sadly died earlier this year, also at a young age, from cancer. The swim was 26 km in the beautiful Ionian Sea, a wonderful atmosphere and in Greece everyone who finishes is a winner. To swim in hearing Vangelis playing loudly and having a huge wreath of olive leaves placed over my head by two fellow Greek swimming friends was just amazing.

What is your favourite swim cake?

I am not a great cake eater but would never say no to any, especially a rum cake!

What is your favourite swimming costume for open water and why?

I have a few but at the moment it is knee length Agon with an Australian design and my name ELLERY emblazoned on the front. (Just in case I forget who I am!)

Out of the water A Lotus Rises…Thank you Ellery!

 

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We Met as Strangers in a Car Park…

A brrrrrrilliant blog by super lotus Kate, who swam through the summer in a wetsuit, but wants to enjoy the water all year around. So…

We met, as strangers, in the car park next to Tooting Bec Lido. After a hug and introductions, Alice and I headed to the entrance. Despite being the longest outdoor pool in the country, you’d hardly know it was there. It’s so well hidden amongst the trees, and going through the turnstile it’s like stepping into a secret world.  And as the season changes, it’s a world of hardy outdoor swimmers – and I was planning to join them!

Inside, at a welcome coffee morning, some had already had their dip and were multi-layered, wide eyed and sniffy-nosed. Conversation skirted around the water temperature – the question never quite bubbling to the surface – a kindness perhaps towards those who haven’t yet taken the plunge.

Soon, Alice was keen for us to swim and we went to change.  

I could feel my nerves jangling and I wondered if I could do this. As we headed out in our cossies and flip-flops, there was a light drizzle and a delicate breeze. The steps into the pool were just a few metres ahead, and as I approached, my mind went still – focusing only on what was in front. Alice confidently waded down the steps, throwing back an ‘oh it’s not that bad actually’ over her shoulder. I knew I couldn’t keep her waiting so followed as quickly as I dared. I was waist height before I knew it, and felt myself gasp. There was a giggle as Alice captured the moment on camera.

 

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Kate enjoying the fresh water!

I tiptoed further in, so far so good… Then, Alice DUNKED! ARGH!  One minute she was with me, half-in half out, then she was under in a swirl of bubbles and up again with a glorious exhale. What?!! A dunk was too much! I can’t dunk! Hysterical laughter as I felt myself stuck!

But again the camera was rolling, and, with a polite mention of a low battery, Alice helped me with a countdown, 3, 2……..1!….  I pushed off, glided forward and I was swimming! My skin prickled and a massive smile appeared on my face.

With an encouraging whoop, Alice joined me and we swam together up the pool, chatting as we went.

I felt every push through the water was cleansing. All that I had arrived with a few minutes earlier was being washed away. At that moment I was just me in the water, enjoying every sensation, feeling refreshed and revitalised.

Tootling lido is an oasis of calm, secluded from the buzz of the city. As you look up all you see is trees. The leaves were blowing down onto the pool like confetti and our breath joined the steam rising from the pool.

After two lengths a high five alerted me to the fact I couldn’t feel my edges, and we scuttled in to dry off and layer up. Suitably dressed it was time for tea, cake and a chat with other swimmers. Extra bonus – my burnt banana bread even won a prize!

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Post swim layers and big smiles!

What did I learn?

  • I can do it. Without any superpowers!
  • That goggles are for decoration only – face in is a step too far.
  • You don’t swim far, but emerge with a zing!
  • Winter swimmers don’t mind burnt cake
  • Great things happen when you meet in a car-park

I left Alice with a giant hug and plans to take advantage of any opportunity for a swim throughout the winter. Thanks Alice!

芙蓉出水 Out of the water A Lotus Rises #WSC

Cold water swimming is a fun activity, but as with all outdoor activities there are risks and needs to be approached with common sense. Knowledge is power and although this is not an exhaustive list, some helpful resources on cold water swimming are: the brilliant Lone Swimmer ‘s Bible of Cold Water Swimming. And this piece by Simon Griffiths at Outdoor Swimmer on After Drop is also an informative read and refers to the interesting research being undertaken at Portsmouth University around these issues.

There’s no such thing as a stupid question, so don’t be shy and do ask your fellow swim buddies for their advice and become part of a swim community. The same piece of water will change every day,  as does how you feel. No swim is the same, so listen to your body and know your limits…And pack sensibly – post swim always have a woolly hat, and loads of layers, starting with a good thermal (top and bottoms) next to the skin and layer up from there – people take the p*ss out of me for how many layers I put on, but I don’t care! Oh, and don’t forget cake. This is a particularly important time of year for the International Institute for Swim Cake Studies – they need you – for your cake and your winter swimming smiles, not for unnecessary shivers or scaring yourself 🙂

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Cake vs Pie – A Lake District Swim Adventure with Suzanna Swims

A Lotus Rises is working in partnership with the International Institute for Swim Cake Studies to answer one of the toughest questions in outdoor swimming: “What is the best cake for optimum swim performance?” Links to our swim cake archives, and how to contribute your swim cake data are at the bottom of this post. But suffice to say, we are determined in our scientific pursuit and prepared to travel the world swimming and eating cake for the rest of our lives if we have to…And so it came to pass, that on Tuesday at 09.00 hrs, this serious swim science endeavour lead us to a car park in Ambleside for a secret swim cake mission with Lake District swim guide and pie expert Suzanna Swims

The International Institute for Swim Cake Studies is a multi disciplinary, multi-stakeholder organisation, with a collaborative ethos at its heart – only through cooperation, discourse and truly listening and allowing different voices to be heard, can we ever resolve the critical challenges facing our world; and most of the time that’s best achieved with a swim followed by cake and a cup of tea (or perhaps coffee…).

We are immensely grateful to Suzanna for taking us on a swoosh-tastic, swim adventure along the River Rothay, past a Roman fort and across the “The Puddle of Unknown Depth”.

What follows is what will become (no doubt) award winning adventure film footage. Please note, that in the summer, this swim usually ends at the pub – literally you get out and walk into the pub garden. However as it was October and the water was pretty tropical, the autumn version of the swim enjoys an earlier exit, taking in the glamorous “Puddle of Unknown Depth”.

 

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Shark dog was carefully secured in her dog box and Suzanna talked me through the swim and what kit to carry in her new Swim Secure Wild Swim bags that we got to test out for the first time. Kit list below.

Getting in

Suzanna talked me through the safest entry point and lead the way into the Rothay. The water temperature was tropical “Just like Hawaii”…

 

Swoosh!

We flew along the first section – no need to swim and could rest on our wild swim bags and chat – very happy swim times!

 

Laughter and Kayaks

Turning the corner we met a group of kayakers “you’ve forgotten your wetsuits”.  Happily both of us knew we are acclimatised and happy skins swimming all year around. Skins swimming in October is not a badge of honour. But having acclimatised for a few years now, it’s something I enjoy. We all find our own path.

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The Puddle of unknown depth

We exited the river and walked back across the fields past the Roman fort and across “the Puddle of unknown depth”. Glamorous wild swimming times!

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Not quite such in the mud… Photo Credit  Suzanna Swims

 

Cream tea – Is it a scone or a cake?

There were pancakes on the menu too, but we kept things traditional with fruit scones and tea, over which we talked about swimming as a gateway to positive change in our lives and the environmental challenges faced in the local area and the responsibilities we have as swimmers (more to follow on that…).

For Suzanna though it is pies, rather than cake that fuel her swim adventures.

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Train home. Is a pasty a pie?

Too much tea and chat lead to a dash for the train back to the metropolis, leaving no time for a direct comparison of cake vs pie. However, Suzanna is super organised and gave me a cheese pasty to evaluate on the journey home….

 

Key information

Kit

This is not an exhaustive list, but Suzanna was testing out the Swim Secure Wild Swim Bag  It’s an inflatable dry bag with shoulder straps and waist band – you can remove the shoulder straps to swim, and put them back on when crossing the puddle of unknown depth and/or other terrain… Really good – space for a lot of clothing (down jacket, trainers, thermals etc), highly visible (good when encountering other water users), and versatile for swim-walk or run adventures.

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Suzanna Swims – expert Lakes guide #SwimSecure

Swimming costumes: Alice – Natatio Racer Back one piece Navy Pop; Suzanna – Zoggs – blue planet high back – (we think discontinued, we’re not sure). It’s her pick for buttermere swims – matches the water there (and that’s not just a fashion choice – more on that another time).

Swim gloves (Osprey): Again I never want to get cold, so when Suzanne offered gloves I gladly accepted them. They were much less cumbersome than I anticipated – could use my camera for Oscar winning film making etc…

And of course, the limited edition A Lotus Rises swim hat, perfect for river swims to the pub, or crossing the puddle of unknown depth. Incredible versatility 😉 (Note Alice wore two swim hats, just in case it was too tropical)

Post swim: Foot changing mat (insulates you from the cold), thermals (top and bottom), Swim Robe, Woolly hat, down jacket, waterproof jacket, mud and rain.

Where?

River Rothay, Ambleside.

Nutrition:

Tea.

Fruit scone, cream, jam and tea.

Cheese pasty or is that a pie?

The discussion continues (swim cake fellows there is a secret mission that we will announce that we need your help on…):

Kina Mara on the Swim Cake Science pulse:

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Outdoor swimmer magazine has also said the cake/pie debate is “just heresy”…

Controversial swim cake times – thank goodness the International Institute for Swim Cake studies is there to oversee developments.

A Call for Submissions. Deadline 6th November 2017

Outdoor Swimmer Magazine have launched a call for swim cake recipes to be published in the December issue of the magazine with prizes up for grabs. IISCS will be overseeing the adjudication panel in line with IISCS swim cake panel guidelines.

Where can I find out more?

Want a swim adventure in the Lakes? Connect with Suzanna Swims on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook

The International Institute for Swim Cake Studies – Become a research fellow @SwimCakeStudies or submit your swim cake data here and here (AKA swim cake pics and insights). Research write ups here and here. During the winter months we’ll be conducting a serious swim cake survey. Watch this space for more details…

The swim cake adventures continue…Thank you Suzanna Swims! #alotusrises #wsc

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Swimming in Siberia and other stories. A Lotus Rises meets Lake District wild swimmer Jackie Risman

Jackie Risman is part of a growing swimming community in the Lake District. Whilst many people start their outdoor swimming careers in warm climates, Jackie’s first outdoor swims were in Siberia!

A Lotus Rises spoke to Jackie to find out more about her swimming journey from Siberia, to Argentina and back home to the Lake District and her growing group of swimmers.

Why did you start outdoor swimming?

After two years of teaching English in Siberia, I decided to go winter swimming. My Russian student always found a way to turn discussions to the traditions and health benefits of swimming in cold water. It was worth trying if I was ever to find out what all this talk was about. As my boss, and in his role as President of the Tyumen Winter Swimming and Hardening Association he grasped an opportunity to introduce his passion to both me, the extreme tourist, and his growing children. When I announced my intention to swim in the frozen lake beside his dacha, in the depths of yet another harsh Siberian winter, the children said “Ok. If you swim, we’ll swim!” He stood proud as we all shook hands in solid agreement.

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Saturday morning arrived and my boss led our anxious group to the gym for a warm-up game of basketball. When our cheeks began to flush, he told us to quickly change into swimsuits while he organized our equipment. He was presented each of us with only a toweling dressing gown, fur-lined gloves, traditional Siberian felt varlinkee boots and a woolly hat. Laughing about our lack of winter clothing, we trudged outside into -15ºC and the icy path to the pool. Cold air crept into every space between skin and fabric, threatening to deep freeze our bodies until guided back to the sauna. Family and friends were applauding and yelling support from the dacha balcony, clutching hats and down jackets to them, as if we were making them feel colder. My brain screamed of danger, but my body wondered what all the fuss was about, because it really wasn’t as immediately bad as I presumed being semi-naked in wildest Siberia would be.

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The children stood back from the lake as we reached the wooden walkway leading across the frozen shore to the shelter protecting the ice hole. Memories flew across my mind of torturous school hockey games in the middle of winter while fingers froze and sleet blinded us. “But THIS is Siberia,” I repeated, “this is what they do in Siberia, and of course you can do it too. You’re a tough Cumbrian lass.”

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Without delay, my boss urged me to follow him inside the shelter. The children’s heads crowded into the doorway behind us, while I stared down at the 8m x 2m hole that had been carved through metre-thick ice into the frozen lake. A pump was driving air which bubbled through the black water to keep it from re-freezing, but the wooden steps descending into the steaming mix were shrouded in icicles and delicate frosting. The smell of rich Siberian earth, vegetation and metallic new ice lingered in the fog. Light flooded plastic-paneled windows while their corners were rounded with remnants of last night’s snowfall. This place hovered in a netherworld caught under the snow yet above the ice, and I was about to go swimming.

“Jackie, you must breathe out when you enter the water. Don’t forget to breathe.” My boss was calling me back from imagination. A moment of no thinking, of simply following his guidance, and I was trying to relax my breathing, outside in a Siberian winter, in a swimsuit and bobble hat.

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My toes touched the water which had been a film of glassy ice only a few hours ago, and I knew it was going to hurt. Two more steps down and my knees were submerged. Standing on the wooden framework, almost at my ear, my boss shouted “Go, go Jackie go.” I pushed away from the warmth of the wood and fell into the world of winter swimming in Siberia. From that moment, I didn’t look back with an ounce of regret or doubt that my boss knew exactly what he was talking about, and everything he had said was true. With a dedicated ice training plan my circulation and immune system dramatically improved, my heart felt strong, an appetite for adventure grew, and ‘cold’ never crept back into our vocabulary.

Siberia – that’s amazing – what’s it like cutting the ice?!

Every week, we swam in the frozen lake at the dacha. The children would drop into the pool behind me like ducks. Our screams of fear became encouragement, and more friends, including Ruth from Northern Ireland, joined us for the first time, fed by our enthusiasm for ice water. By May, winter had faded, the lake was melting, and we were confident and capable of swimming outside even when the temperatures plummeted to -34ºC. We followed International Winter Swimming Association (IWSA) guidelines and rules of security which meant that no-one swam alone, or without a woolly hat, or without the sauna being prepared first, and we never said the c-word!! Of course, it was going to be c-c-cold. By avoiding the word, we found a game in the positive mindset needed to keep swimming week after week in water below +5ºC. Usually, the children pushed me to swim first, and often the air pump had not been turned on. I would launch out from the steps and have to crash my naked hands onto sheets of invisible ice threatening to slice arms and faces. Icicles and frost would sparkle like fairy dust as steam rose from water warmer than the outer air. Our damp varlinkee boots would freeze to the wooden walkway and prevent us from stepping straight into them and easily walking away from the pool. Part of the fun was being frozen to the spot, and then sprung free to slide along the walkway back to the bank, but nothing prepared us for the razor sharp slashes of water which had frozen to our wet skin, that were pulling fine hairs from arms and exposed legs.

Where else have you swum?

The following summer, my boss was invited to the Argentina Winter Swimming Festival, in the Andes above Mendoza, and to swim in front of the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia. He invited me, and I was honoured to join him. This unique opportunity of swimming in the cold but open waters of an Argentinian winter, concluded all the preparation we had been doing in Siberia. With nothing more than a swimsuit, cap, goggles and a positive attitude, strong friendships were founded as swimmers from 20 different countries shared unique experiences with us. Back in Siberia, we looked forward to hosting and swimming with these special people in the 2nd Tyumen Winter Swimming Open Cup. Guests joined us in our pool at the dacha, from South Africa, USA, Chile, Argentina, England and all across Russia and Europe. For many, winter swimming in Siberia was an impossible dream, and the event cemented our international winter swimming family.

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Next, I landed in Finland with Ruth, and participated in the national championships, just 100kms from the Arctic Circle. More than 700 swimmers of all ages and abilities from across Finland, with a mutual love of winter swimming hosted us. We loved every second of their fresh/sea water pool and the club on the river, which is attended daily by hundreds of swimmers just as keen as us to feel their endorphins racing. Soon, I was on my way back to Argentina, via Prague to join Czech swimming friends, who also shared a passion for swimming throughout the year, and I promised, one day, to return for their traditional Boxing Day swim under Charles Bridge.

 

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After my second South American winter in Argentina, and assisting the organization of another International Winter Swimming Festival, life took a dramatic turn when aged only 45, I returned to Cumbria for a life-changing total hip replacement. Convinced that I wasn’t going to waste time by sitting around in pain, I visited Wigton Baths as often as possible for classes. I hoped to learn how to properly swim front crawl, right up until the week of surgery. Just as Siberia had taught me to enjoy the positivity of winter swimming, the pool taught me that movement without pressure on my damaged joints was keeping muscles flexible and my heart moving. Post-surgery, 6 weeks later, I was on my way back to the pool with Francine who, after 30 years of friendship, I’d just heard about her love of morning pool swims. It was a celebration to be in the water again and able to explore a new range of movement.

I walked with Leah from Lanthwaite Green car park at Crummock Water, just 8-weeks post-surgery. I’d underdressed my swimsuit and saw total shock when I told her as we locked the car. She held my clothes and sheltered from the sudden snow shower, laughing her head off when I waded into the lake at flat-stone beach, and had the shortest and first of many wild swims on home turf. Half disbelief, half amazement that I felt back in a pain-free world of adventure, which didn’t just connect me with open water. Having grown up in the Lake District, it had never occurred to me until then that I had a million opportunities for both cold and open water on the doorstep. My plan to swim in every swim-able lake was born now that I felt back on track with the buzz of Crummock-enduced endorphins racing through my body.

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Where do you like swimming now and who with?

Three months after hip replacement, and feeling the need for an open/cold water companion, I put a message on Cumbria Open Water Swimmers Facebook page for like-minded winter swimmers. At first, the general response was very discouraging but, rising above the negativity, I stayed hopeful until Rosie replied and wanted to swim. We messaged, agreed to swim from the boat landings at Derwentwater, and then I asked “Where do you live?” As fate had it, we lived in Wigton, the same small Cumbrian town!

Fate and social media had nailed it. May Bank Holiday weekend, with fresh snow on the fells, we dipped into Derwentwater and it felt good. Our next adventure took us to Glencoyne Bay, Ullswater with artist, Nancy Farmer and her unforgettable chocolate brownies, and I knew what I needed to do…get decent swim shoes to deal with awkward rocks underfoot, and keep doing what we were doing. There was no pressure to push extreme limits, we belly-laughed in the middle of lakes, and we got out when we knew we could still recover with ease. The water temperature was much warmer than Siberia, closer to +7ºC, but the feeling was just as exhilarating. My journey had been tough with a lot of miles to get back home with a new outlook, and I felt stronger with every adventure – the Lake District had everything I could possibly need to pursue my love of wild swimming, while the people I told my adventures to smiled and became curious.

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Eighteen months later, and every weekend it’s a different Lake District location, maybe a favourite lake spot or an unfamiliar tarn. This weekend I’ve been in both Crummock and Ullswater, wild swimming in the rain, uniting a group of swimmers that had never met before. Jean, who dared herself a year ago to join me and Rosie after we met at a local writers group; Margaret, who I met through mutual swim friends that we’d both found on Facebook, or was it Instagram?! Karen, accomplished swim achievements to her credit and visiting from Loch Lomond, but we first met in Argentina. And Francine, who finally joined in my challenge to swim all the Lakes, and has become my same-pace-same-courage-can-do-swim-pal; after all this time, who knew that her curiosity would generate a new dimension to our friendship.

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How did that swim group grow?

Our wild swimming community is built on personal connections, and jam-packed with positive souls and strong spirits, regardless of ability, age, or experience, but united in their sense of adventure and love of being outside to see the Lake District from inside the view itself. The Swim Gang messages through the week to plan our next adventure, and has grown from tiny seeds of connection and mutual friendships, with wild swimming in the Lakes as our linchpin. We share transport and suggestions of recommended locations, Suzanna Swims offers creative routes, or Susan wishes for dawn training calls, on sunny evenings there are post-work de-stresses, or early Sunday morning nattering from the middle of a lake, bobbing along with the wind and buzzards swooping overhead. The rest of the world may be sleeping off what it thinks has passed. Meanwhile, we’re in the quiet of what is yet to happen, in the middle of the natural world where it’s all still ticking along nicely, and the rubbish stuff is too far back on the shore to reach. The serious bit is that we are all aware we are not out there alone: tow floats are a must, there’s no prizes for staying in too long, and the swim isn’t over until everyone’s recovery is complete. After all, this is extreme adventure tourism, although it may not be Siberia, but the stakes are equally high. And there is always the sharing of photos and experiences, across our social media circles which are spread around the world, or tea and cake for when we’ve dried off!

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What does swimming mean to you?

Recently, I enrolled for an online copywriting course. The first exercise said – Sell yourself in a letter and sign it with your defining life role. I gave it a lot of thought: writer, teacher, domestic engineer…no, I thought…wild swimmer. I’m a wild swimmer and I’m wild about swimming wild. I love the rituals; the adrenalin; the mastering of irrational fears; the state of having irrational fears; our community; their diversity; how we never permit the c-word; swimming in all weathers, in all seasons; the strength that each of us displays that no individual thought they held alone, although wild swimming is not a team sport. Swimming has become the force of nature that wakes me early at the weekend, keeps me warm in the winter, and throws me into the beautiful Lake District landscape in search of fresh adventures. Every time, the experience is different, neither better nor worse – just wildly unique.

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As you know A Lotus Rises is working in collaboration with the International Institute for Swim Cake studies, to answer the fundamental question of open water swimming: What is the best cake for optimum swim performance.  Please can you tell us, what is your favourite swim cake and why?

And sometimes, Lottie will bake a cake. OMG can she bake a cake. Macademia and White Chocolate Brownies. End of!

What is your favourite piece of swim kit and why?

Finally, shoes. Get some, they will change your swim life. Take away the pain of starting and finishing your wild swim, knowing your feet won’t hurt and I may not be Halle Berry wading out of Ullswater, but I’ve never stubbed a toe when I’m wearing Sports Direct’s Hot Tuna swim shoes. With flexible but hardwearing soles, neoprene slip-ons, they are secure, lightweight, still let me feel the water temperature, are machine washable, and incredible value for money. Plus, a lightweight but hooded toweling poncho that rolls up small for my backpack to save modesty and from flashing my cold bits in moments of vulnerability.

Swim safe. Swim wild.

You can follow Jackie’s adventures and connect with her via Instagram 

A Lotus Rises  is the swimming blog for women who love open water, from your first 25m to the Channel. And we’re on a mission to increase visibility, access and participation of women in swimming and we’d love you to be a part of it. Many more inspirational stories, advice and adventures can be found on our Blog, and Facebook page and Instagram, – please don’t hesitate to get in touch via Twitter or  alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

Swim4miles. A Lotus Rises meets Coach, Boat Pilot and Loch Lomond expert Chris Sifleet

Chris Sifleet is an open water swimming coach based in Balloch near Loch Lomond. Chris was a County pool swimmer and transitioned to open water many years ago at age 13 and has completed solo swims of the English Channel 1976 and 1979 and two-way Windermere, Bala Lake, Torbay, Mewstone Rock to Torquay (first person), Weymouth to Lullworth cove and return (first woman) and many more. She now helps swimmers achieve their ambitions be that one mile or 21.6 miles in Loch Lomond and soon various locations across Scotland. She and her firm Swim4miles are partnering with the IISA Great Britain Ice Swimming Championships being held in Loch Lomond on Saturday 11th February, and along with her group and individual tuition is hosting a swim camp in Banff Scotland in September involving sea swims, castles and a ceilidh!

Why did you become a swim coach?

Well I had been out of swimming for several years through illness, but always maintained an interest and reflected very much on what swimming had done for me. For example, it increased my confidence and fitness and introduced me to lifelong friends that I am in touch with to this day – Who would not want any of that?

So I decided to share my experiences and love of swimming and help people achieve their aims and ambitions and try and instill in others the belief that anything is possible. I passed my level 1 and 2 open water coaching qualification and started coaching three years ago. I formed Swim4miles, took my piloting qualifications and moved to Balloch Loch Lomond where I run a bed and breakfast, so I can offer the whole package – swim, sleep and socialise!

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Emma Lister on her 6 hour qualifier in Loch Lomond. Photo copyright Chris Sifleet

What does Scotland and Loch Lomond offer to open water swimmers?

21.6 miles of beautiful scenery and a very challenging swim. The challenges are the weather; particularly wind directions. It can be very variable – sometimes it’s behind you, but at some point it will be in your face! There is also the temperature. In a good year it might be 16 to 18c, and in a poor year it can be as low as 13c. Because the bottom of the Loch undulates and there are many small rivers flowing off the hills the temperature can go up and down, which is why acclimatisation is very important. If you don’t want to swim the whole thing then there are various routes across and around the islands, which I map out on an individual basis.

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A swimmer enjoying the loch! Photo Copyright Chris Sifleet

Please describe some of your recent coaching successes.

I was very proud this year to coach the Arran Troonautics. A mainly female team with one chap swimming 16 miles from the Isle of Arran to Troon on the Scottish mainland, in aid of the Jo Walters Trust and the RNLI. There were two relay teams: ‘Clyde’, the non wetsuited team who gained recognition from the BLDSA; and ‘Firth’, the wetsuited team who were on a separate boat. There were a variety of abilities, so I had a busy time formulating training plans for the beginners as well as the more experienced swimmers. They all completed the swim and raised twenty five thousand pounds for charity.

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Troonautics swimming from Arran to Troon. Photo copyright Chris Sifleet

I also coached a lady who had done very little swimming and wanted to undertake a swim challenge in aid of MIND. We worked towards her swimming the three miles across Loch Lomond, which she did. We started off with stroke analysis and then I gave her a program of swims so she could swim the distance. She wore a shortie wetsuit and to help her acclimatise I recommended that she blow up a paddling pool in her back garden, fill it with cold water and sit in it for as long as she could stand through the winter! She was so proud of herself and that smile will stay with me for life! She raised seven hundred pounds for MIND.

How does the role of a boat pilot differ from that of being a coach?

I am responsible for the administration and safe running for the whole swim. I have my own boat so it is my responsibility to get the swimmer plus the boat to the start, and ensure that before and after care is dealt with efficiently. I am a qualified pilot and I have a co-pilot with me. I also have a medic and encourage the swimmer to bring along someone who knows them well. I can be responsible for feeding them etc if they have come alone.

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Swim Camp! Photo copyright Chris Sifleet

I need to make sure during the swim that the swimmer is not becoming hypothermic and I will pull a swimmer out of the water if I feel their health and wellbeing is compromised – We live to fight another day! It is a long sit on the boat, as it can take in excess of 15 hours to swim the length of loch Lomond, however the minutes at the finish of the swim when the swimmer gets out, realises what they have achieved and smiles, makes it all worthwhile!

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Coaching the Sunday Morning Swim Group. Photo copyright Chris Sifleet

What are you looking forward to most about working on the IISA Great Britain Ice Swimming Championships?

Very excited about this event. We have ‘tartanised’ it as much as possible and have a piper, highland dances and a Scottish Ceilidh in the evening. There are events where swimmers can challenge themselves and the temperature is likely to be a tad chilly. I am the one person cheering when it looks like snow! I am looking forward to introducing this wonderful Loch to people who have never been here before and hopefully renewing old acquaintances and making new friends.

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Loch Lomond. Copyright Chris Sifleet

 

A Lotus Rises is dedicated to women who inspire and are inspired by a love of open water: We celebrate their successes in the water, inspire others to embark on swimming adventures and raise awareness of the social and environmental issues that are entwined with our love of water.

You can get involved via the BlogFacebook, Instagram, Twitter @ALotus_Rises and alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

The name ‘A Lotus Rises’, comes from the Chinese proverb 芙蓉出水,“Out of the Water a Lotus Rises,” used to described strong beautiful women in water and overcoming challenges and coming into bloom.

The BIG Chill Swim! Event review by Helen Gilburt

With a backdrop of snow tipped mountains, there’s nowhere in England quite like Lake Windermere for a swimming gala. So like 100’s of others, last weekend I travelled to Low Wood Bay to take part in the Big Chill Swim. For anyone who has never been to a winter swim event or been put off by taking part in a ‘gala’ the Big Chill Swim is a prime demonstration of how eclectic and inclusive cold water swimming is. My first year I signed up for the 60m and 120m events but 3 events on, I’ve been building up and along with 2 shorter distances I was finally entered into the British 1 kilometre Championships.

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The Big Chill Swim, water a bracing 7.3 degrees: Photo Credit Helen Gilbert

The event kicked off on Saturday with the 450m endurance event. Yet again I asked myself – why does everything I enter have to start first thing in the morning?! Despite all the training, I always feel awash with nerves. It’s only when you get into the final briefing and take your allotted seat, when the opportunity for ‘just one more wee’ has finally passed that it’s time to go with the flow. For our group that meant a lot of banter and laughter enhanced with someone explaining to the younger age category sat opposite ours that “this is what you’ll look like in 5 years time!”

I can’t say it was a disaster (I took 3rd place in my age category) but it certainly wasn’t what I visualised. Perhaps the tell-tale sign that yet again the adrenaline had got the better of me and I’d gone off too fast was that 3 lengths in out of 15 all I could think about was how out of breath I was.

Between swims you often have quite a bit of time, but swimming is only part of what Big Chill Swim is. Like other events, I often travel on my own. This can seem a bit daunting at first but the common bond of winter swimming means there’s always someone to chat with. And if you’re not embroiled sharing stories with one of the many teams in attendance, there’s always the relay. Teams of 4, each member racing 30m for me is one of the highlights of the event. Not for the speed per se but the diversity and creativity of the fancy dress at play. You’ve heard of 4 lords a leaping, but can you imagine 4 turkeys swimming… not to mention the obligatory mankinis.

For many Saturday was completed with a buffet and barn dance at the fabulous Low Wood Hotel, but for me it was a burger and bed in preparation for the 1k event. Yes, as you’ve guessed, yet another early morning. Big Chill Swim is associated with the International Winter Swimming Association attracting participants from across the world. With two ladies from Finland, one from the US and one from Chile – our race was certainly a demonstration of that.

So what will I be taking from this year’s event? A gold, silver and bronze in 3 separate events and entry to the Big Chill Swim 1k club, learning how to sauna the Finnish way (on your back with your feet and hands in the air) but most importantly a growing group of friends to hang out with at next year’s event.

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Champion! Photo Credit: Helen Gilbert

 

A Lotus Rises is dedicated to women who inspire and are inspired by a love of open water: We celebrate their successes in the water, inspire others to embark on swimming adventures and raise awareness of the social and environmental issues that are entwined with our love of water.

You can get involved via the BlogFacebook, Instagram, Twitter @ALotus_Rises and alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

The name ‘A Lotus Rises’, comes from the Chinese proverb 芙蓉出水,“Out of the Water a Lotus Rises,” used to described strong beautiful women in water and overcoming challenges and coming into bloom.