Bruce Joins The Polar Bear Club

It Is Life Altering

My indoctrination to cold water swimming came one mid-January morning at 5AM on a Lake Austin boat ramp. I have always felt that I am pretty tolerant of cold water in general and have found it humorous in past seasons to be one of the questionable few to show up to early season triathlons sans wetsuit. I had heard stories from Lynne, Fred and Gracie about the early morning Lake Austin swims with their personal descriptions ranging from "makes you feel alive" to "surreal". I was intrigued at the onset and, I guess, was waiting for something to kick me into taking action. That something came in the form of Gracie describing the swims as "life alternating." How in the hell can someone pass up an opportunity to do something life altering? That was all it took to get me to take the plunge - literally. Lynne sent me an email in advance detailing the recommended list of items to bring and a rundown of the "process" the channel crew created for dealing with getting in and out. Robes, swim caps, earplugs & hot water being key ingredients. I immediately began wondering what I had gotten myself into (after committing of course). I read Lynne's account of one of her earlier outdoor lake swims in January and really thought twice about things after hearing the best swimmer I know talk about panicking and considering cutting a 20 to 30 minute swim short! My concerns were put to rest quickly in an email from Lynne that contained this simple but effective advice "Don't think. Get out of your car, undress and get in the water. You will "warm up" in about 3 minutes. Keep Laughing." Of course, don't think just go do something you have never done before and are apprehensive about, I can do that. After all, I am a subscriber to the Hugh Ayles philosophy of physical extremism put forth in his classic statement: "If you're gonna be stupid, you gotta be tough". The morning came around and Lynne, Gracie and I were at the ramp, psyched and ready to roll - thermos full of hot water and all. We determined the route we would take, straight across, turn right and go down to the boat docks, back across and up to the ramp. After taking the water temperature and announcing it was 57 degrees Lynne put the loaner wrist lights on me and we began wondering where Fred was. Fred's enthusiasm for these swims is surely a motivation for all involved and I really think we wanted him there. After the obligatory waiting period and checking of cell phones for messages we knew we were on our own. There is only one way to get in water this cold I thought as I began to run down the ramp. I don’t think I said anything loud enough for anyone to hear but I was screaming inside. After I dove in and immediately lost all the air in my lungs I began doing the Tarzan swim like crazy, all the while thinking "I'll warm up in 15 or 20 strokes and things will be fine". After 50 yards or so with only a few shallow breaths to provide myself with any oxygen I started thinking of turning back. So much for the not thinking advice, I realized quickly that was only to get me in the water, whatever happened after that I was on my own. I slowed down for a few strokes and tried to control my breathing a bit which actually did some good. Pretty soon I was OK and I began to warm up some. About that time I remembered the stories I’ve read about Everest expeditions and made myself a promise that if I felt like I was going to sleep I'd flag down Gracie or Lynne for help. After we all had made the plunge and swam 50 or 100 yards we kind of re-grouped and things began turning for the better. I could tell from the laughing. I even made a comment about being glad my family was already established. After a swim a section, sight, swim a section traversing of the river we made it across and focused on the next stop - the boat dock. By the time we made it to the dock I was warmed up (read numb) and ever so thankful I took the recommendation to wear earplugs and a swim cap. This was the first time I ever wore earplugs and I rarely ever wear a cap but they made a profound difference. I remember thinking that my head was actually toasty. We re-grouped at the dock and had a great time talking about the adventure up to that point. It was about then that I had the feeling that I was really enjoying the swim despite having fleeting thoughts (no kidding) that I was adrift by myself in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a bit unnerving even though I knew exactly where I was. Oh well, at least I wasn't sleepy. Looking around at the sky and feeling amazingly alone in a very unusual (at least uncommon) situation really made me realize Fred's "surreal" description fits perfectly. Enough of the yucking it up, we had a swim to finish. Making it back across the river and back up to the ramp was pretty uneventful and I was a bit sad that my inaugural swim was coming to an end. It was about then that I realized I had gotten what I had come for, something completely different. When we made our way up the ramp and out of the water I was amazed that I really wasn't too awfully cold at all. I was, however, feeling very "alive". The three of us were going through the process of grabbing robes and stripping cold swimsuits off while making our way to our respective cars. It was about then that the shivering began . Fred explained to me later that once the generation of heat (swimming) ceases, the body's core temperature "plummets". I agree with that assessment entirely. I got in the car and headed to UT for swim practice. I was shivering like crazy and dumping hot water all over myself while trying to drive. At one point on 45th Street a car came along side of me and I remember thinking, "I hope she is paying attention cause I don't know if I can keep from hitting her".  Not your everyday thought. We made it to practice and into a nice warm pool.  I ran out of gas pretty quickly into the workout.  I realized that due to the altered morning schedule I had eaten nothing and had probably shivered away a liver's worth of glycogen. The rest of the day I elived every detail of the swim and realized every detail of the swim and realized my life, in some way yet to be defined, had truly been altered. Way to go Gracie!