“You don’t have to be serious, you just need the will,” reads a headline on the United States Winter Swimming Association Homepage. If a statement were to accurately describe the endeavor “winter swimmers” undertake, this is it.
Winter swimming is an activity where swimmers compete outdoors in lakes, rivers, or unheated pools in temperatures often below freezing. The sport is popular in Scandinavian countries, Eastern Europe, Russia, and China, and it is beginning to gain popularity in the United States. Many competitions happen at the national and international level every year, with the Winter Swimming World Championships bringing the most winter swimmers together each year for competition.
The 10th annual Winter Swimming World Championships was held March 8-12 in Tyumen, Russia. The competition drew 1,275 participants from 42 countries worldwide with participants ranging in age from 8 to 92. Swimmers competed in events ranging from 25’s of all strokes to the 200 freestyle in pool filled with water from the river in Siberia.
While the swimmers are there to compete, there is a sense of fun, excitement, and community that makes winter swimming meets unique. The times resemble that of a master’s swim meet, but remember that these swimmers are swimming their events in freezing water covered in ice. Check out the videos of the Winter Swimming World Championships and you will see participants diving into the pool, not in wetsuits, but regular racing suits after officials scoop out ice from the lanes.
Full Results (in Russian) can be found here
From the United States, nine swimmers participated, many from the Coney Island-Brighton Polar Bears club out of New York. The club was founded in 1903 by Bernarr Macfadden with the belief that swimming in cold waters boosted one’s health and immunity. While the benefits have never been confirmed, the Coney Island-Brighton Polar Bears enjoy their weekly cold-water swims in the Atlantic Ocean every Sunday during the months of November through April.
USA Winter Swimmer Jaimie Monahan finished in the top 10 in multiple races and helped lead the United States to a 13th place finish overall. Top three finishers at the 2016 Winter Swimming World Championships were Russia in first, Finland in second, and Estonia in third.