Column, Funologist

Snow swimming, part 1: getting started

By Emma Cotton, Vt Sports Magazine
Swimming through ice is not for the weak of heart; Owens finds the adventure invigorating and life-affirming.

Flipping the switch from boring—to “woohoo!!!”

By Sandra Dee Owens

Have you ever yearned to do something but were afraid to try it?

Climbing out of the mid-October water, I excitedly hopped up and down at the effectiveness of my winter “swimsuit” against the plummeting air and water temperatures.

The previous morning, before dawn, I stepped carefully down the rocks to the lake. Teaching myself the freestyle swim technique since August, I stayed in the water for 30 minutes, navigating the shoreline by starlight, watching the sky lighten with each turn of my head. Magical!

But this morning, I stayed in the water for only 15 minutes, as the air and water temperatures had dropped significantly overnight in their steady slide toward winter.

Saddened by this turn of events, I stood on the shore thinking, “Well, I guess it’s time for me to retreat to the local swimming pool for the winter, to swim—indoors—in lanes—in bleachy water.”

Though I had anticipated this indoor swim plan all summer, it was incredibly un-fun sounding, and my soul drooped at the thought of it.

Pulling on my robe, I headed home, unable to shake the desire to continue wild swimming throughout the winter. Once home, I dug through my closet, looking for something to save me from my un-fun, indoor swim plan.

Have you ever not wanted to do something. . . really badly?

By Sandra Dee Owens
Sandra Dee Owens dons her “winter swimsuit.”

Pulling on a pair of snowflake-patterned leggings from my ski bag, and a short-sleeved surf shirt from another, I felt the “woohoo!!!” of adventure-excitement and some fear, course through me.

Well acquainted with fear’s influence as one of the most powerful gremlins (as I call them) that can keep me from doing what I really want to do, I imagined flipping a switch, from the boring-but-sensible indoor swim plan—to a “woohoo!!!” outdoor swim plan.

And suddenly, the fear gremlin diminished—just a little, and my wild voice (what I call my inner advisor), strengthened—a lot.

I barely slept that night for excitement and early the next morning, dressed in my new swimsuit, I swam—for 30 minutes again.

“Woohoo!!!,” I shouted, climbing out of the lake, vowing to swim in it until it—or hell—froze over.

Which, as it turned out, was Dec. 24—near midnight.

‘Shards’ By Mike Stannard

Have you ever used the things you have—to create the things you need?

Dropping air and water temperatures meant I needed new micro strategies to remain safely in the winter water; a pair of rubber-based stockings became effective arm sleeves once the feet and torso were cut off. A mini pad adhered to my forehead (under my swim cap), helped to ease brain freeze. A friend’s thin wetsuit assisted with longer swims.

The morning of Dec. 24, my accomplished swimming friend Karyn Stannard joined me to carefully fist-punch the half-inch thick ice forming along the lake’s shore. Gently pushing the shards aside, we made a narrow channel to the open water beyond, swimming parallel to the ice shelf—for 12 minutes.

Late that night, the lake iced in completely.

By Sandra Dee Owen
Titled ‘Steering,’ this painting was make with acrylic/oil using “nature’s paintbrushes.”

Do you know what your best health motivators are?

At some point during that first winter of snow swimming (named for the snowflakes on my leggings and because I adore the word snow), I realized that adventure is my biggest motivator. The challenges of snow swimming required continual problem-solving, micro strategies and testing to keep doing it safely.

I discovered that I love tests!—as long as they are connected to adventure.

Since the health benefits of snow swimming were huge for me (it felt like a mind, body, spirit, reboot on a cellular level), I knew I would be looking for a new set of challenges in the second year of this awesome-possum sport.

For more information on Sandra Dee Owens visit:

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