Friday, March 9, 2018

Ice-swimming in the Neva River, Russia with some tough women

That water is as cold as it looks  - a pool cut from ice on the Neva River in St Petersburg, Russia. Among the dedicated swimmers, I met Ranie Pearce who travelled from California to dive in during one of the coldest weeks of the winter.

The International Winter Swimming Association take their purpose in life very seriously; the night before a team with chain-saws were hard at work sawing up the 40cm thick-ice to make a three-lane 25m pool.

Altogether 150 swimmers from different countries including the far eastern reaches of Russia took part in the event. And they were all planning to travel on to Talin, Estonia to do it all over again.

Among them, were Ranie Pearce and team-mate ... from California. Yes, sunny California in the US.

When I met Ranie in the morning she was dressed for the weather - boots, fleece clothing and a big wooly hat. But all around us, people were preparing to strip off and swim. Raine said the ice is so thick they cut it, and then shove it down into the river and it floats away as it would be too heavy to lift up.

How you should dress for the weather! Ranie with her Californian team-mater and Team Finland
So how do you stay warm in there? Apparently, you don't, its that old thing of mind over matter. She said: "We have a saying, the colder the water, the warmer the friendship. And that's definitely true today."

So while tourists and journalists stomped about in boots and hats, taking photos of the spectacular St Petersburg scenery, the swimmers were warming up in the back. I was relieved to see they had a mobile sauna on-site, I don't think the star-jumps and push-ups I saw were going to cut it after a dip in that river.

And they really went for it. It was incredible to see people stripped down to regular Speedos in temperatures where even taking off my glove to quickly answer the phone was painful.

I had a short chat with President of the association, Mariia Yrjo-Koskinen from Finland who was happily trying to talk anyone watching into having their first ice-swim. No-one took her up on the offer, it seems like an event requiring intense mental training as well as being able to swim. Twenty-five metres in a regular pool isn't that far, but the chunks of ice change everything.

Take a look at this video (shot on my phone) and see if you are tough enough for winter swimming?

Follow Ranie Pearce on Instagram @RanieFish 

The International Winter Swimming Association are on Facebook


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