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Canadian joins elite club after mile swim in freezing Okanagan Lake

Okanagan Lake

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Shortly after qualifying as Canada's first official ice swimmer, Paul Duffield was shivering so badly he worried about biting his tongue.

But as he neared the end of his swim in Okanagan Lake Sunday, his skin bright red from the cold, he felt so buoyed by the 40 people cheering him on from the beach that he forgot all about the pain.

"I feel great. Really good," he said a few hours after his swim, which made him part of an elite club, with only about 30 members worldwide, known as the International Ice Swimming Association.

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After taking a hot shower that lasted longer than his 34-minute swim, he was with his support team, celebrating the accomplishment with Champagne – and hot chili.

Mr. Duffield, who had to swim one mile in water colder than -5 C, said the worst part of the event was in the first few minutes, when he stripped down to his swim suit and a cap, the only gear he was allowed to wear. "Your feet get cold. Your legs get cold. That initial shock is the worst," he said. "And you get brain freeze when the water hits your face."

Wet or dry suits are not allowed in the competition – which may explain why so few people have been able to qualify qualified as ice swimmers under the IISA's rigorous standards.

Mr. Duffield, a 42-year-old kitchen cabinet maker who moved to Canada from England a few years ago, is a member of The Lake Monsters open water swimming club, in Kelowna. For the past year, he has been training for a relay team crossing of the English Channel, which will take place next July. But when the club members moved inside to train this fall, he decided "to see how long I could keep swimming in the lake." as winter approached As it got colder, he realized he was able to handle the conditions that ice swimmers have to deal with, and he thought: "Why not give it a go?"

The swim he did Sunday was tough physically, but the bigger challenge was mental, he said.

"You have to stay calm, not panic," said Mr. Duffield of dealing with the feeling that grips a cold-water swimmer when the extremities go numb.

"My hands were like blocks of ice. But you don't want to focus on your cold hands. You focus on the swimming stroke," he said. "You focus on any bit of blue sky you see. It's avoiding thinking about the cold."

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Toward the end he could glimpse the willow tree on the beach where he was going to finish, he could hear the crowd cheering him on, and he could see the red chair, where they were going to bundle him up and do a quick medical evaluation.

Mr. Duffield said once he warmed up he was going to talk to his wife, Angelique, about taking her on a two-week holiday to say thanks for all her support.

He hadn't picked a spot. But somewhere warm is likely.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More


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