Team Defence Of The Ice

Team Defence Of The Ice

Commentary courtesy of Nuala Moore, an ice swimmer from Ireland.

A year ago, ice swimming and ice swimmers came under attack from blog sites and social media as being a dangerous sport. Comments were made that hypothermia would claim a life or, by our personal involvement as ice swimmers, we were enticing people to take on challenges that were beyond their capabilities.

A charge that could be levied against any swim or sports group from Channel swimming to mountain climbing – as the interest in extreme sport increases.

We felt it was quite troubling to read the negativity, having had adventures both negative and positive in the ice. We had faced fears, climbed mountains that we didn’t envisage, and experienced highs that in our swimming history would rank among the highest.

To not acknowledge this negative press would be disrespectful to the history of ice swimming and the risks taken to learn and benefit the future of the sport. We felt that words and talking needed to be substituted by doing and that is what we focused on.

An opinion on social media seemed to suggest that we as an ice swimming community needed to accept and take responsibility for those swimmers who would take on an ice swim without training. Having first-hand experience of the pain and effort, I could not understand how anyone would try to stay in the freezing temperatures to prove a point. But we need to deal with it rather than complain. There are 3 choices to progress: we can go around problems; we can under the problems; or we can go through the problems. Going under and around is avoiding the challenges: going through and learning was our choice.

No matter the sport, no matter the individual, education, preparation, training, and team support are vital tools in all success. I think it is fair to accept that ice swimming brings challenges. I think it is unfair to assume that the sport can be responsible when athletes are aware of risky outcome, that they then would not look to understand them.

We accept totally that with the volume of people entering into the sport that regulation is required. The International Ice Swimming Association in response created a very strict constitution on personal and event requirements. Limits that the Association feel meets the minimum safety standards. These limits are there to be respected as they reflect the years of learning. To not embrace the negative would be to ignore every lesson learned.

We have never hidden from mistakes made, getting to this point involved a lot of risk. Ice swimming is an extreme sport as like an ultra-marathon or an Ironman. To undertake it without training or understanding is not an option.

Ireland Ice Swimming, the brainchild of Pádraig Mallon and Nuala Moore, both whom have experience and achievements in ice swimming and extreme events, set out to create a program which would offer a journey, focusing on promoting positive elements of the ice. The Camlough Lake Committee supports athletes of all abilities and also promotes the mindset of stepping out of the ordinary, challenging oneself, taking life to new limits.

Forty people stood up and accepted a specialised four-month ice swim training program which would provide them with:

· The skill set and expectations of the mentors and the committee within the program
· The medical requirements of the sport with ongoing medical assessment
· An understanding for the risks of ice swimming
· A detailed brief of the requirements of a team
· A gradual acclimatisation to ice cold water temperatures from 12°C (November 2014) to 1°C (February 2015) focusing on swim time, stroke rate, medical presentation and recovery. Each month, we set challenges of time and swim distance, recovery ability that the swimmer had to meet to move on to the next stage.
· Highlight the challenges and overcoming them for the organisers, the swimmer and the team
· Develop the importance of the personal responsibility of the candidate to both themselves as an ice swimmer and to the sport
· To create survival skill sets which in today’s protected environment can be lost
The objectives of the program:

· Educate and share personal experiences

The team leads included Pádraig Mallon who has swum both the North Channel and English Channel, an ice mile, swam in Tyumen, Siberia in -33°C air and 0°C water, and Nuala Moore who has competed in 0°C temperatures in Siberia, Murmansk, Finland, Argentina, China and the Bering Strait Relay team over the last 24 months. They both brought personal mindsets and experiences that could ally most ice swimmers fears and help them in their journey. The Camlough Lake Committee has event organizational experience of 12 years with several thousands of athletes, 2 Guinness world records, and the highest levels of sports events and athletes in Ireland thus allowing them to develop and manage this programme.

· Safely bring the athlete to an ice kilometer

To demonstrate that an acclimitasation program could be implemented which would allow in a controlled way for a new swimmer to understand the need for safety. The importance of Team is the difference in a positive outcome. Preparation is key.

· Educate on the medical ramifications to swimming at sub-5°C temperature on the body

Since December 2012, Moore has been gathering medical evidence and supporting information through Dr. Nataliya Fatyanova and Dr. Irina Zhidkova [shown below], in Tyumen, Murmansk and the Bering Strait Relay. This includes monitoring the heart and the bodies internal responses such as blood pressure and heart rate to immersion in water at 0°C and also the medical impact of multiple immersions. By documenting the research and results and applying them to personal feelings and responses, having discussions with other medical personnel on board the Irtsk (the main command and hospital ship of the Bering Strait Relay) Moore has created an evidence base which is helping others to understand and also to take ownership of medical and personal responsibilities for their own health. It is not conclusive evidence, but it acts to assist understanding. The ice is not for everyone; but that does not make it a no-go sport or a dangerous sport. It makes it what it is: a challenge to the mind, body and emotional being.

· Create a comfortable and confident environment where all fears were acknowledged and worked through from the personal experiences of the mentors.

Fear is the monster we create when we cannot understand something in our minds.

Fear is darkness and everything regardless of how small that can impact on the positive outcome of the swim needs to be acknowledged as real.

So the Camlough Lake team worked from all elements of personal experiences that in their swims created monsters and forced them to abandon their efforts for example: Mallon and Moore’s first trip to Siberia, Tyumen 2012 at -33°C air was an unforgettable experience, both very confident of completing a mere 500m but both abandoned the distances at 300m and 150m respectively due to the overwhelming emotional challenges.

Their experience was overwhelming terror, fear of the unknown. Upon getting into the ice, the body goes into immediate shock, all the organs are hit at once and breathing becomes impossible for those inexperienced. What started as 20 lengths of a pool turned into a fight for survival. The fear of the unknown, the lack of understanding, the panic and the anxiety created the monster so great that getting out was the only option – to remove yourself from the threat of danger despite having no particular physical reason to stop. Experience and understanding has allowed both to excel at zero. Hence, the Ireland Ice Swimming Program was created to help others differentiate between reality and drama.

The main mantra is that the ice is what it is. The emotional journey is an expectation; the pain a certainty; the humility of being brought back to full exposure of your limits of your inner self, a reality. The main message for Mallon and Moore to share with the participants is that everything you feel is real but knowing who you are, your skill set as a swimmer and as a person is the greatest tool. You can’t hide.

The Ireland Ice Swimming Program allowed Mallon and Moore to harness these emotions and share this learning with the successful outcome of an evidence based study of stroke rate, heart rate and medical presentation pre- and post-event documenting progress and changes from temperatures down to 1°C. With the assistance and knowledge, the guidance and procedures of this experienced committee created a “ring of steel” around the swimmers.

25 entrants to the Ireland Ice Swim Programme completed the 1k International Ice Swimming Championships distances with world records and age category records. Within four weeks of this February date, nine of the participants in the Ireland Ice Swim programme completed the 1-mile distance in sub-5°C temperatures.

This showed the mental strength and the physical ability of the participants, many are novice open water and completely new to temps under 10°C.

The results of our program clearly show that acclimatisation, education and mental training, emotional strength and trust in your team bring results. The ice is what it is. The challenges are what they are, but knowing how to approach and manage the swim is the difference between success and failure.

Experience is the key.

Copyright © 2015 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones