An Open Letter from Ram Barkai, Founder and Chair of IISA
A letter from Ram Barkai – IISA founder and Chair
Dear Frozen Ones,
It was great to see so many of you at the World Championship in Samoëns, France. It’s been one and a half years of planning and organisation to get to those 4 days of swimming. This Post Covid era threw up a lot of challenges. Yet, we managed to get 465 swimmers from 42 countries all over the world. 19 World Records were broken in the overall Open Category and 7 world records were broken in the Overall Para category. It is our first official World Champion where we recognise all short distances as well for Word Record purposes. So many of the records are new records. It will be harder in the next world championship to repeat this, however, we are growing rapidly, with faster and younger athletes coming to the ICE.
Well, done to you all. It was an Olympic spirit event. I want to take this opportunity and thank the country chairs and board who assembled their teams from so many countries the organisers and the FFN ( Fédération Française de Natation), the Officials, the Medical teams, the amazing passionate announcer and everyone who helped us makes it happen.
I want to say a special thank you to all you frozen ice swimmers and your support and families. It is you that the sport was created for. It is you who made our dream come true and, in a few years, we will all sit and watch how far the sport has grown, we are making history now. THANK YOU.
IISA has grown remarkably in the past few years, regardless of Covid and the new international challenges. The level of competition, the Ice Mile participants and the Ice Swimming Adventure part all attracted a lot of attention. With growth comes challenges and demand to develop as well.
My vision for IISA has also grown and expanded. Yes, we aim high and dream big, but the road to fulfilling dreams is not simple and highly demanding. Yet, the dream we do and follow them to the end of the world, seeking ICE, fun and challenges. My leading role is to make sure that our spirit never stops and doesn’t let the endless challenges stop us from enjoying the ICE everywhere and in many ways.
IISA going forward will focus on 4 areas:
Ice Mile, ICE 7s, Ice Triple Crown, Ice 0 c, Extreme Ice Mile and a few new concepts we are looking to bring into what we refer to as our “Challenge – Adventures in the ICE”.
Another area which is not part of IISA as yet but growing rapidly is the Ice Swimming Adventures trips. We now have trips to:
· Antarctica 2024 (which is fully booked for swimmers, but has some places for short-distance swims and support) – check it out here
· Mongolia Oct 2023 – a new exciting Adventure in north Mongolia with a swim in Lake Khovgol (lake Baikal sister lake), opens now. check it here
· Svalbard Aug 2023 where we will be able to offer a polar ice mile excepting water temp of around 4C. check it here
The ICE Triple Crown will be implemented soon – it consists of:
a. Southern Hemisphere Ice Mile
b. Northern Hemisphere Ice Mile
c. An ICE KM achieved in a national event or IISA World Championship.
This is an established area by now with the big dream of taking Ice Swimming to the Winter Olympic Games one day. This is a dream I believe will happen, but I am not sure when and how. Ice Swimming is a disruptive sport in a very established world of sports. It has been challenged and ridiculed as a mad extreme trend for years. Only now it is starting to get serious attention as a growing new serious sport. My main challenge is to make sure it is not going to become a business per se and that we manage to keep that amazing spirit that I believe doesn’t exist in other sports. That electric spirit of a community working together and helping each other fulfil their dreams and conquer their challenges.
We are looking to make some changes in this area, by broadening the age group scope and narrowing the qualifications for the elite swimmers, to attract the best in the ICE. This will allow us to relax some of the criteria for age group participants. We are working on bringing back the Ice Word Cup series next season.
We possibly going to separate the Age Group from the Open category [similar to masters and open] yet, in the same events, just different criteria.
We realise that education is becoming a big part of our road to fulfilling our dreams. We started with the Level One Observer Course. We continue with the Level 2 Event Organiser Course and we will later launch Level 3 which will be an international level IISA event Organiser such as World Cup and World Championship. We are looking to create workshops and conferences to spread our vast experience in the ICE gained over the past 15 years. A lot is happening in the cold-water area. Some trends, some recreational, some business initiatives and a lot of enthusiasm. Ice Swimming has become a household name from a 10-second dip in an ice hole to a splash in the cold sea or river and swimming in cold to icy waters. It is our responsibility to transfer our knowledge for others to understand the ICE, respect it and learn to swim in it responsibly.
We are looking to expand our work with the medical fraternity, rescue services and others to learn more about the ICE, what it does to us, good and bad and explore ways to understand it more fully. Like any extreme sport, the more one understands the medium of the sport the safer and further one can go.
Under these four strategic pillars, we are going to build a technical committee, marketing, para and others…We will be looking for help and more involvement and if you are interested to get involved in any level and area please contact me directly with your motivation, background and interest to add value to the sport. You will be very welcome to be part of our growth.
In the next few months, we will chat with athletes, country chairs and board and assemble information for the way forward in our frozen dream.
I am looking to set up a country chairs forum very soon. It will become IISA General Assembly representing all our members out there. I do know many country chairs, however, in many countries, IISA is still embryonic and driven by few “unorganised” ice swimmers. Please email me directly if you want to drive IISA in your country and we will take it forward and formalise it. I am aware that it is a rather significant challenge but it is taking off nicely in several countries and I am here to help you build, strategies and make it happen in your country.
I wanted to touch on a few prickly issues within the last World Championships and IISA growth. IISA is a large operation covering many countries yet, it is run and driven mostly by myself with the help of the board and with very limited resources. I have invested the last 15 years of my life in our passion for the ICE, time and money and it became the focus of my life and gave me an enormous sense of direction and fulfillment. I started it with a vision to share my passion with everyone, rather than carve a little niche for myself. I many times wonder what drove me to do that, I guess when one follows their heart, like all of you, the question of why becomes irrelevant, and the focus is on what it gives back to you.
I was called mad, irresponsible, and other less complimentary words in every language possible over the past 15 years. Nevertheless, I continued to forge ahead with more structure, experience and exploration. I couldn’t do any of this without you mad frozen ones who, for whatever reason, were drawn into the Ice Dream and challenge. We have shattered a lot of myths and now it has become a household extreme sport and we keep on learning and making it safer.
Innovation has always been a key element in IISA, always searching for new frontiers, and experiences, understanding the ICE and forging forward. The whole IISA website was built to allow us to run a vast organisation with as few as possible resources, automated and at your doorstep wherever you go. My idea was always to make your BIO your Hall of Fame with everything you have done in the ICE, there forever, for others to see wherever they are.
Recently, with the vast amount of information on your BIO and account, we decided to eliminate all medical forms held in your accounts. You are no longer required to load medical documents to the website, to protect your privacy. And as soon as we can all past medical forms loaded on the IISA website will be deleted forever. You will need to travel with a hard copy of your Medical and ECG and I recommend taking a picture and keeping it on your phone if required to show it at International Events.
IISA has decided to make a step forward towards reducing its carbon footprint where it can. It started with the certificates, which have cost a rather significant amount to build and automate on your BIO. It was a test with a 5€ symbolic cost to see how swimmers take it. It worked very well and was received very well. Therefore, from 1-Mar-2023 all your BIO event certificates will be available for free for all past events and future events. The certificates are re-generated every time you click on them. They are not stored in the system. Therefore, future innovations will continue to impact the certificates. You can download them, print them [they are hi-res quality] and post them. We have been approached to follow a new trend in digital medals. The decision was to plunge in and go digital. For me, it reminded me of Steve Jobs announcing the removal of DVD drives from computers and later keyboards from phones and going wireless on everything. The world screamed murder, but now it is all history and most of you may not even remember that moment. The cost of the digital medals was significant and by no means offered us a cheaper option. I have seen many comments, use of language was sometimes rather dull, but I listen and spoke to many swimmers collecting feedback. I am aware that many liked it and kept their silence as they don’t like social media debates, but it is clear to me that the swimmers want to receive something physical when called to the podium. Being an innovator and exploring new frontiers doesn’t come without mistakes and lessons. I am determined to keep the digital medals, possibly not as NFT but as an attachment next to your certificate on your BIO. Something that will stay with you forever, not in a big box at home. Something you will be able to share easily and show others everywhere. Yet, we will also bring back physical medals in IISA events, on the condition that they are made from recyclable material from ribbon to medal. So thank you all for your feedback. We listen and are not scared to learn. Some countries have asked to make their own WC medal to give swimmers something physical. I haven’t objected to that as long as IISA approves the design with the WC logo and it is only distributed to Medal winning swimmers at cost with no profit intention. Going forward IISA will place more rules on the usage of materials and resources in IISA Events to ensure a minimal carbon footprint and move to more eco-friendly solutions.
Last but not least, I call on each country to further establish its IISA presence in their country. There are a lot of initiatives out there. All good and fascinating. Our international strength is in our identity and brand. There are so many out there claiming to be ice swimmers, with various techniques and outfits, social clubs and trends. They are all great and their contribution to the love of the ICE is great. However, IISA has positioned itself as the Guardian of the ICE. The most extreme learned and experienced bunch of mad ones in the ICE. We have the most to teach and pass on. We have seen and done the most extreme things in the ICE and continue to do so. We set high standards for safety in this extreme medium to protect the integrity of our achievements. Creating a strong IISA identity in each country will allow us to make the sport at all levels, safer and better.
Thank you all again. For your passion, your support, your love of the ICE and your feedback. We grow, we grow up and we become better in the process.
Spread this letter, share, inform your community and ….
TAHMK YOU MAD FROZEN ONES
See you all in the ICE.
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