Swindon Dolphin swimmer Helen Hanks was a double medallist at this year’s Cold Water Championship at Tooting Bec Lido. In water that was barely above freezing Hanks claimed silver in her age group in the 30m freestyle and, with fellow open water swimmers John Tanner, Darren Sweeney and Ivan Lewis – “The Numb Numpties”, picked up bronze in the relay.
Hanks has been an open water swimmer for some time and has more recently started competing in cold water events, the Cold Water Championship following victory in the Brass Monkey meet in Cheltenham earlier in January. The near freezing temperatures now hold little fear for Hanks. “When you first get in it takes your breath away and it can take a while to get your breathing under control, which can be quite scary. I found once I actually started swimming my breathing went back to normal and I could control it.”
It is all about getting in, swimming the required distance, and getting out. “If you hang around in the water it just prolongs the inevitable and you just get colder and more uncomfortable with every second,” warns Hanks. “It is ‘mind over matter’. Once you take the plunge, its not actually that bad and you anticipate and you certainly get a tingly feeling all over. It is hard initially, but I you become acclimatised to it.”
Cold water swimming may seem crazy but it does have a number of proven benefits; it helps the immune system, increases blood circulation which helps skin stay taught and makes you look more youthful, and raises the metabolic rate and burns more calories and fat. It is also about the thrill. “When you get out, get dressed and are starting to warm up, the adrenaline buzz is an amazing feeling that stays with you for hours afterwards. I think it is because you have done something verging on the extreme and you feel a great sense of achievement.” Or put another way: “It also keeps me looking young, means I can eat more chocolate and makes me feel good!”