Joe Zemaitis, the head coach of Swim Neptune in the Phoenix, Arizona, successfully completed an “Ice Mile” on February 15th in Prescott, Arizona. If ratified by the International Ice Swimming Association, he would join a group of around 300 individuals whose swims have been officially ratified by the organization.
To qualify as an “Ice Mile,” a swimmer must complete the swim, in a pool or open water, in water temperatures 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit) or colder. Swimmers aren’t allowed to use wetsuits or any other warmth aids in an Ice Mile swim – only a standard swimsuit, cap, and goggles.
Zemaitis completed his swim in 24 minutes, 19 seconds in an outdoor short course pool in Prescott, where the water temperature measured 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4C). Prescott is located about 100 miles north of Phoenix. On average, temperatures in Prescott are about 20 degrees colder than in Phoenix (it sits at 5,300 feet of elevation – about 4,300 higher than the state capital).
“If you’ve never been in water that cold there really isn’t a way to explain how painful it is. The last 500 yards were particularly challenging.” He said, “The worst part was after the swim. The rewarming process is painful and can be dangerous. But having done tests swims of a mile in 44 degrees and 500 meters in 36 degrees I was ready. It’s all a matter of perspective. This challenge is about redefining your limits while having the right supervision and safety protocol in place. You just have to convince yourself that a 40 degree pool isn’t too cold and a mile isn’t too far.”
To qualify, there are a number of safety rules that must be adhered to, including a medical examination by a doctor who has been told about the pending attempt. The course must be naturally under the 5 degrees Celsius standard, with no human assistance in decreasing the temperature being permitted. Pools are allowed for certified Ice Miles, but open turns must be used.
The International Ice Swimming Association currently lists 444 successful Ice Mile swims on its website done by 301 swimmers from 38 countries. If ratified, Zemaitis would become the 28th American to accomplish the feat: the 3rd-most of any country. England (100) and Ireland (40).
In 1998, Zemaitis set the 19 & Under Record at the Kona Ironman Triathlon, and was the 2003 Overall Amateur Champion at the Iornman Langkawi Malaysia. In June of 2018 he won the 8 bridges race, a 120-mile stage event that takes course over 7 days in New York. He’s also successfully completed the English Channel swim, Catalina Channel swim, the swim around Manhattan, a crossing of Loch Ness in Scotland, and the 28-mile Molokai-Oahu swim in Hawaii.