fitness

Winter Swimming and Risk in COVID Times

It is winter swimming time again, and I’m thinking about the rules. Sometimes they seem silly and arbitrary.

Sometimes they actually might be wise, depending on distance to populated areas or water conditions.

Back when the pandemic first started, my friends and I did a lot of debating about whether we should continue to swim outdoors. Pools were closed, of course, but it was too early in the season for lifeguarded beaches (not that we swim there anyway).

How far did we need to stand or swim apart to prevent transmission? Would we put an unreasonable burden on the health care system if someone got into trouble? Were we setting a bad example for inexperienced swimmers who might try to copy what we were doing? Most importantly, were we being really honest about our biases, and assessing the risks to ourselves and others accurately?

Eventually, we found solutions we were comfortable with, and continued to swim through 2020 and 2021. Open water swimming and cold water dipping experienced a huge surge in interest during that period.

This surge did push some communities to block off access to local water holes. The fenced-off area above was blocked this week, shortly after we dipped in water that wasn’t even waist deep. The ice was several inches thick and someone had needed considerable force to break it.

Diane wearing a silly hat and bathing suit, with an ice-covered pond in the background.

With the resurgence of COVID, I am once again rethinking whether and how I can swim or dip safely. Although my friends and I model safe behaviour, provide advice and some have even offered video seminars, I keep reading about people wanting to dip or swim by walking over ice to get in the water. This is dangerous.

The ice can cut you and you won’t even feel it; you could fall through a thin spot; you could have difficulties getting back out of the water; you could slip under the ice if the water is deep enough and there is a current.

Breaking holes in the ice can be dangerous for others, too. Dogs, skiers, walkers and snowmobilers also go on the ice. They could easily go through an unmarked, partly frozen swimming hole. If there is no open water you can reach easily and safely, consider joining the folks who enjoy winter sports.

The Memphramagog Winter Swimming Society’s event is still scheduled to go ahead in late February, and several of my friends are planning to attend, if the borders are open. That means they need to practice. So for now, I will keep going into the water, even though if feels really really cold since we can’t go as often as we would like. Last week, it was all we could do to swim ten strokes.

Diane in her silly shark hat and a big smile because she isn’t in the water yet. Aimee, in the background, is standing in the water and is looking very cold.

But maybe not. With COVID numbers rising, I am increasingly uncomfortable sharing a car. We are all vaccinated and boosted and we can wear masks or drive separately, but the open water is an hour’s drive away. That’s a lot for five or ten minutes in the water.

What about you? How are the latest COVID numbers affecting your risk tolerance for fitness activities?

Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa. She is looking forward to strapping on her skates or skis over the next few weeks.

2 thoughts on “Winter Swimming and Risk in COVID Times

  1. First of all: love the hat! Second, yeah, you hit the nail on the head about how COVID is testing our risk tolerance. My friends are already starting to drive separately for walks and hikes, etc. I think that’s going to continue through the winter. Thanks for the post!

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  2. As usual, a well thought post. I’m still swimming at the pool but I do keep my distance and wear my mask for as long as possible before getting in the water. Risk is something I think about more than I’d like to. Essentially, I’m wary of strangers and not about to make small talk in the grocery store and only go to non-food stores when absolutely necessary.

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