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Swimmer braces the ‘Ice Mile’ in B.C. interior lake

KELOWNA, B.C. — A Kelowna athlete has braved the frigid waters of a southern B.C. Interior lake to join an exclusive club of global ice swimmers.

Paul Duffield may well be the first Canadian to swim 1.6 kilometres — dubbed the “Ice Mile” — in water colder than 5 C sporting only a swimsuit and cap.

The 43-year-old joined on Sunday a list of 25 people who have completed that distance worldwide.

The swimmer decided to take the plunge after reading about the International Ice Swimming Association last January, and he kept the goal in mind while training for a swim across the English Channel that’s coming next summer.

Duffield emerged with bright red skin from Gellatly Bay in Okanagan Lake to the cheers of two dozen supporters, and did not need assistance from waiting paramedics.

He says it was as much a mental challenge as a physical feat.

“It certainly is an extreme challenge,” he said. “The physical is obviously the pain of the cold. If you are not mentally prepared, then the physical will just take over and you won’t succeed.”

After the swim, his wife helped him put on a fleece jacket and toque while drinking hot sports liquids. He placed hot water bottles under each arm, then put on a ski jacket, sweatpants and snow boots.

Duffield immediately climbed into a vehicle with its heater on full and was whisked away to his nearby home to complete the warming process.

“Clockwork,” said Mark Fromberg, a doctor who monitored Duffield’s progress from the shoreline.

“You couldn’t ask for a better result. I knew he could do this, he’s been training really well. ... It takes a special bit of discipline to stay calm in this kind of circumstance, but Paul has the right kind of demeanour to do that. It’s all about mental control.”

John Smirl, an Okanagan Masters Swim Club coach, encouraged Duffield from a kayak and documented a distance of 1.75 kilometres in a time of 36:50.

“The stroke looked really, really good the whole time,” he said. “He was very conversant, coherent. It was the best possible scenario. That was a really, really well-done swim. It was awesome.”

Duffield took advice from U.S. cold water swimmer Lynne Cox, who said in her book, Swimming to Antarctica: “If you focus on the cold, you’re focusing on something that is not going to get you to where you want to be.”

Duffield said he’s heard two words from people the week before Sunday’s swim: “Crazy” and “why?”

“Am I insane? Maybe,” he said with a chuckle before the swim. “I don’t know. I passed a physical earlier in the week, so physically I’m prepared for it. Mentally? There may still be a few questions to answer there.”

 
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