Swimming is a funny old thing. Not so funny as to laugh whilst you’re doing it, but funny nonetheless. It remains the country’s favourite participation sport, way ahead of pretty much everything else, but even so, people tend to think of you as one of those people when they find out you’re a swimmer.
Of course, they have no idea just how niche (weird?) it can get.
You’re a swimmer. To most people: “Good for you. Well done for being active.”
Yes, but I’m also an open water swimmer. “Okay. You’re brave. You wouldn’t get me doing that. The wetsuit must keep you lovely and warm.”
Not really. I don’t wear one. “Pardon?”
And I swim all year round. “How did I get into this conversation? Byeeee . . .”
So, if you count them, that’s Five Levels of Strange™. To most people.
Not so much at Yorkshire Outdoor Swimmers. YOS has become a bit of a haven and centre of excellence for people interested in the Fifth Level of Strange™ running swimming sessions twice a week throughout the winter. Because of this commitment to their passion YOS has a substantial presence in the world of cold water swimming.
Here are some stats:
• The International Ice Swimming Association (IISA) has on its register 146 Ice Miles from the UK at the time of writing. Almost a third of them have been swum by people who are or were YOSers.
• Some YOSers are so keen that they’ve swum multiple Ice Miles. Of the 43 Ice Miles by
YOSers, 20 of them have been swum by the same five people. (Wendy, Catherine, Jane, Bruno and Andrea).
• YOSers have swum 11% of the global total of Ice Miles.
So, it’s not really a massive surprise that YOS has a pretty strong presence on the international Ice Swimming competition scene as well and the 2017-2018 winter season has probably seen our best performances yet.
Starting in early January the German Ice Swimming open meet moved from its former home in Burghausen on the Austrian border to a 50m outdoor pool in Veitsbronn, a suburb of Dusseldorf. The original YOS team was weakened by the late withdrawal of Wendy Figures due to impending granny duties, but despite this YOS was strongly represented by Jane Mulderigg, Mark Gardner and Theo Pearson.
The competition took place in the 3.8C water of the outdoor 50m pool in Veitsbronn. All three swimmers had entered the 1k race and two relays with Jane also entering the 500m freestyle and 50m breaststroke.
In the 1k freestyle, all three had strong swims. Theo won the 30-39 age group category in 16:46. Mark had a powerful swim in one of the hardest age groups that included reigning world champion, former English Channel world record holder and Olympian Petar Stoychev. Mark came 5th against some very strong competition in 15:55.. Jane swam a beautifully paced race to come third in her age group. Initially slipping behind some extremely experienced ice swimming racers she held her stroke and powered through to finish strongly in 18:06.
In her other events, Jane was just off the age group podium in the 50m breaststroke in 57:06 to come 4th. Jane also swam well to come 6th in her age group in the 500m freestyle in 8:45.
Grabbing honorary Deutschlander-cum-Tyke Timm Mehrens to replace Granny Figures, the YOSers were also involved in the 4 x 50m and 4 x 100m freestyle relays. Swimming against extremely strong teams from Germany and Poland including current and former event and world champions the YOSers came a very creditable fourth in both events, just a few seconds behind the third-placed team in the 50m relay to finish a great weekend of racing.
A few weeks later the Netherlands held their IISA gala in the 50m outdoor competition pool in Volendam, about 40km north east of Amsterdam with three days of competition with short to long distances including the mile, the kilometre, 500m freestyle, 200m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 100m breaststroke and some relay events. There was a strong GB presence with swimmers from the south west, but there were a couple of YOSers there to fly the flag as well. Andrea Startin swam in the mile event on the Friday (having swum an Ice Mile at Harthill the weekend before “just to check she could still do it”) and Simon Porter swam in the 200m freestyle and the 100m freestyle on the Saturday.
Conditions were excellent with the water at 4.0C and the air temperature similarly cool. Andrea came fifth overall, proving that she could indeed “still do it” and Simon had a couple of good swims to come third overall in the 200m freestyle and was edged out to fourth place in the 100m freestyle.
At the end of January, the focus moved to the Irish open hosted at Wild Water Armagh. This is a very different kind of event taking place in a bespoke freshwater pool of two lanes 25m long. The event is well known for its warm and friendly atmosphere and with a small pool that spectators can get right alongside the action and show their support. The event team also run a “Russian style” recovery system with water of varying temperatures and towels, complimented by an awesome sauna and a hot tub with a great view of the action.
Following a World Championship year in 2017, it was perhaps inevitable that most swimmers in 2018 would be Irish. There were five international swimmers representing the Netherlands, Spain, Greece and, of course, Yorkshire. With a small pool, the events were limited to the classic 1k distance with competitors racing in pairs in 4.4C.
Fergil Hesterman from the Netherlands – the winner by a stroke in Veitsbronn – won the event by a massive margin of 3 minutes and 5 seconds ahead of second place. Surprisingly for Fergil, this was his slowest ever official 1k time of 13:13. (Imagine being able to swim average 100m splits of 1:19 and think of it as “slow”!) Carmen Marquez Aguilar set a new Spanish women’s national record and Greek marathon swimmer Charalampos Theodosis swam a solid 17:30.
Andrea Startin put YOS into fourth place in the ladies’ event with a super-smooth 18.19, swimming against local powerhouse Olive Conroy who went on to win the women’s event in 16:51.
In his first 1k competition Simon Porter swam a steady 17:14, coming sixth overall. Both Andrea and Simon placed first for their age groups.
The final event of the season was the IISA British championships, held just down the road at Hatfield on the outskirts of Doncaster on the 24th and 25th of February. This was as close as it could be to a “home event” and a strong YOS presence was felt throughout the weekend both in and out of the water with yellow and white flags flying and the bellowing of the YOS faithful.
Even with the sad late withdrawals from three key team members, YOS was able to field a large squad of swimmers across eight events. There are a lot of facts and figures from the races and you can reflect on the full team glory with a summary of the results below but here are some highlights:
- Every individual YOS swimmer won a podium spot or an age group podium. All of them. That’s a Pile o’ Medals.
- In the Blue Riband 1k freestyle event, every YOS entrant won their age group. That’s five age group golds out of five swims.
- Theo Pearson swam an ice 1k personal best of 15:51 to come third overall and win his age group, pushing IISA President Ram Barkai into fourth.
- YOS’ Most Decorated Swimmer™, Wendy Figures won her age group in the 1k freestyle and won overall gold in the 50m breaststroke and silver in the Individual Medley with both events also giving her two additional age group gold medals.
- Robyn Dyson, the youngest member of the YOS squad, attending her first IISA competition, entered the 500m freestyle, 50m butterfly and the 4 x 50m freestyle relay. Robyn collected three overall podium spots from three races which is an auspicious start to her ice swimming racing career. Robyn came second to Caroline Saxon in the 500m, pushing IISA GB chair Kate Steels-Fryatt into third place and raced against 17-year-old Jessica Hather in the 50m butterfly (perhaps foreshadowing swimming duels in the future), taking the silver spot. Robyn led off the YOS Twirl relay team, which stormed home to third place overall.
In the 4x50m freestyle relay the YOS Twirl team raced well with Robyn Dyson, Andrea Startin, Simon Porter and Jim Lafferty swimming a fantastic anchor leg in his first cold water swim of the season below 9C, bringing the team home to 3rd place overall.
Wendy Figures, Caroline Baldwin and Theo Pearson were joined by temporary YOSer Caroline Saxon to bring YOS Creme Egg back in 8th position, with YOS Twix (Sarah Powell, Michelle Millard, Mark Gardner and Martyn Leadbeater) close behind in 9th and YOS Team Crunchie (Sara Jarman, Pat Cooke-Rodgers, Dawn Evitt and Paul Powell) in 12th.
The final race of the event was the 4 x 25m fun relay. The uber-competitive IISA GB Board team won it by a long way, but the YOS team of Sara Jarman (chicken-suited), Mark Gardner (Fox hatted), Sally Buck (having borrowed Rod Stewart’s hair) and Theo Pearson (rocking the mankini) strutted their way into second place and drew all the attention.
The European winter swimming season is now at a close – but YOS have had a great time of it. What will the summer bring? And then what else is possible next winter?