This weekend 670 swimmers from 21 countries will converge on the Tooting Bec Lido to take part in the international Winter Swimming Championships 2008. The event, which always takes place in an unheated outdoor pool, is being held outside Finland for the first time ever. Olivia Brown, a member of hosts the South London Swimming Club and entrant in three of this weekend’s races, took time out from training to tell Londonist why she’s looking forward to competing in near freezing temperatures.
My name is Olivia Brown and I’m 32. I work in the B2B conference industry, researching conference topics. I have always been passionate about swimming and have signed up to swim the English Channel in September 2008.
I swam for the first time in the winter at Tooting Bec Lido four years ago and found it exhilarating. If my memory serves me correctly I think I smiled for the entire day. I didn’t swim through the winter that year. This year will be my first full winter season and, believe me, I’m discovering new things about my toes and teeth-chattering abilities every day!
It is almost impossible to describe what I get out of cold-water swimming, particularly as I lack the poetic skill to put into words some of the truly amazing experiences I have had. However, as a simple example of what I get out of it, this morning, whilst having my early morning swim in the Serpentine, I found myself having to smooth out my stroke so I didn’t wake the sleeping swans! What? How on earth am I to explain the joy of that to anyone?
It’s the simple experiences such as that that make me realise how lucky I am on a daily basis. Swimming in water so cold that my head stings and my nose freezes doesn’t sound pleasant but it is the most wonderfully inspiring moment of my day. It wakes me up and makes me smile. For half an hour every day I don’t think about anything else except sheer happiness, which is hard to come by in our world, and if you could bottle that feeling you’d be a millionaire. It seems a shame not to be able to encourage more people to do it when a simple hour out of their day could turn their lives around.
If I was reading that I’d be sceptical but, honestly, I believe 100% that cold-water swimming is the best prescription for happiness. Actually, I believe that open-water swimming is good for happiness, but the cold adds a little sparkle.
There are very strong reasons why open water and winter swimming are particularly good for women and their happiness. If I were asked to give my reasons I’d cite the obsession with image that plagues many 20 and 30-somethings in London today. This obsession is outlawed in swimming communities, not on purpose but simply by default.
I’d also mention the astonishingly high percentage of women in their 20’s and 30’s who are still haunted by eating disorders. Swimming helps women develop coping strategies to deal with this and in time overcome them. There is an upsetting amount of women out there who are depressed and lonely. I’d prescribe them half an hour to an hour once a week at their local open water swimming facility. In Captain Webb’s day open water swimming was prescribed for the common cold – “Blast it away”! Well, blast away melancholy and discontent, that’s my philosophy.
In truth I have no hard and fast proof of my convictions but if money were no object I’d invest in the research and put my neck on the line to prove my faith in the benefits of open water swimming. I’m sure there are many that will think I’m mad, but I am also sure that there are many who will agree.