Why we swim

A foot plunges into the icy blackness. Cold penetrates the skin like a knife. Bit by bit, the rest of the body becomes submerged. Slow, intentional movements. One leg, then the other. A cautious step forward. Edging in, feeling for the river bed. Numb from the waist down. It’s time to take the plunge.

A leap of faith

The intentional part is done. Now there’s nothing for it but to submit completely to the water. Falling slowly forwards. Every breath is an effort. Slow down, don’t gasp. Lie still, weightless. Wait for the panic to pass. Self-awareness is all-consuming. Focus on survival. Inhale, exhale. Concentrate. Thousands of tiny needles penetrate the skin. Every part of the body is awake, alive.

Swimming slowly, purposefully. Look around. Nature is everywhere. Tall reeds sway in the breeze. A kingfisher darts and dives. Tiny fish swim close to the surface. Look up. A red kite soars above, circling, tracking. Swans glide by proudly, wings upturned. Completely unperturbed by the humans in their habitat.

On the bank, people point. Let them stare. Be their inspiration. When life gets too much, they will search for solace. A moment when everything else fades away. The worries of the world cease to matter. There is nothing but here and now. Nature. Cold. Breathing.

Finding serenity

Time passes and panic turns to calm. Breathing slows. Intense cold becomes comforting, relaxing. Everything fades out. Now, there is serenity. Swim, slowly and peacefully. Listen. Drink in the sounds, appreciate the unusual vista from inside the water. Acknowledge the hustle and bustle of everyday life happening elsewhere and slowly detach from it. Becoming increasingly at one with nature and simultaneously separate from civilisation.

Hear every signal from the limbs, core and deep within. Desire to remain in the water must be balanced against survival instinct and the need for warmth. Reluctantly emerge from the water. Cold to the core. Dressing slowly, appreciating every layer. A well-oiled routine to recover numb extremities. A hot drink ignites a small fire inside and feeling begins to return.

Life goes on

As warmth slowly creeps into the body, so do the responsibilities and worries fighting for attention. Now though, their clear, crisp urgency is replaced by soft, fuzzy necessity. Stress has dissipated, that burden is for others to carry. The swimmer has escaped it, for now.

Walking away from the river with a fond backward glance. The water will always be there, like a good friend. When disquiet and restlessness appear, it is time to return to the frosty embrace of contentment.

I write about the benefits of open water swimming including winter swimming and further information is available via outdoor swimmer magazine.

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  1. This is so beautiful. I am in absolute awe of your swimming and the benefits seem to be amazing, but I don’t even like a cold swimming pool, let alone a cold river!

  2. Oh this is so beautifully written. I love how you describe cold water swimming and I can imagine that it can be quite serene after the initial shock of the cold passes. I’m with Sarah that I don’t even like a cold swimming pool let alone swimming outdoors in winter so I’m in awe of you too. You’ve almost made me want to try it myself – but I suspect that’s very unlikely to happen any time soon! x

    1. Thank you Louise. I can understand not wanting to try it but it’s a bit addictive once you do! Perhaps in the summer you’ll be more inclined to give it a go!

  3. Oh so poetically put.
    I tried just a cold bath after I was running last week and got a small insight into this. I hope I can keep up the cold water swimming this year so that I can carry on into next winter.