“I’m with you in fearing that something terrible is going to happen, and it’s going to happen soon”.
This is a direct quote from a well-known and respected Ice Mile and Channel swimmer in response to my own similar assertion in my introductory email. I’m putting it up front so you understand exactly the concerns of some of us. And it’s not the only such, I’ve got others. Another example from a different overseas Ice Mile organiser:
“You are correct in thinking that at some point someone will [succumb] during or just after an ice swim”. Just as important this person qualifies this statement; “as [x] mentioned it happens eventually in any extreme event”.
I’m writing this series for reasons I’ve outlined previously. When I said I wanted to write about Ice Mile swimming, it was because I am concerned that a tragedy will occur, sooner rather than later, and that if I said nothing, I would feel guilty. We all need to be doing our best to reduce potential problems in what is a very extreme event, which individuals have the choice and right to attempt.
I also said such in my initial email to the range of correspondents quoted here. It’s why I continued to complete an Ice Mile when I had lost any particular personal desire to so do. I am not great at anything, but for well over four years I have committed to writing abut cold water swimming. Anyone who doubts my motivations can see the extensive range of cold water swimming articles on this site. I have tried to explain the challenges, inspire people with the joys and rewards, add a bit of humour but also educate about the various dangers.
This rules section has became a hydra, growing beyond what I intended.
Because it’s the best article on the necessity for rules and the thinking of open water swimmers, though it applies to marathon swimming, I’m going to point you to Sarah Thomas’s article on MSF, so important we’ve given it a permanent page of its own. Rules are not just important, but essential. They are the flag to which disparate athletes of differing talents and motivations can all salute. They define, protect and unify.
A read of the IISA website is essential for any discussion of Ice Mile swimming rules.
The IISA Constitution
The Constitution is contained in an embedded Scribd.com document (Scridb is a document hosting website). This is unusual for something intended to be public. It means that an aspirant or organiser can’t download the contents for reference. It also means that it’s clumsy to read and navigate. Further, for these articles, I couldn’t copy and paste, as Scribd document contents are flash objects, not text, and so can’t be copied, requiring screen captures. This moves the Constitution away from being an open, easy-to-use document into a restricted document.
The Constitution is without any changelog, revision or edit dates. So there’s no way to know when or if it’s changed, nor what amendments may have been made. One can contrast this with the Marathon Swimmers Federation rules and how we have released a version history and change data in the process.
Section 3.3 sets out the criteria and rules for an Ice Mile. Matters such as distance, temperature measurement procedures, equipment allowed, etc. It’s all pretty straightforward.
Much of the constitution is given over to incorporation details and definitions that aren’t relevant to this discussion.
IISA Main Objectives
The Constitution also lays out a number of interesting objectives. It is best to investigate the rules through the IISA’s own stated objectives. Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned Scribd problem, I can’t copy those over here. It’s section 3.1 and I will include relevant captures throughout.
Briefly the first three, which I address below, are;
To promote Ice Mile swimming
Provide recognition of Ice Mile swims
To promote safety in extreme swimming events (emphasis mine).
Along with these are two others which particularly interest me, (emphasis mine again);
Promote medical research on cold water swimming
Promote knowledge and understanding of swimming in ice and cold waters
Promotion and Recognition by the IISA
With respect to Ice Mile swimming promotion, I’ll refer to the retention of a current Irish Ice Mile Ambassador whose primary promotion efforts have been self-promotion rather than supportive of Irish Ice Mile swimming. (This assertion has also been made to me about the IISA itself in my correspondence, by more than one person).
Recognition of an accredited Ice Mile swim should be straightforward. On completion of a swim, having paid the fee and provided the necessary documentation and data, certification should be released. Since Eastern Bay Swim Club handled this last year and I didn’t complete the swim, and I haven’t yet received mine from this year, I don’t know how it relates to the Irish swimmers. However I can attest that in my email communications with overseas Ice Milers, two different Ice Mile swimmers in the US felt very aggrieved about their communications with the IISA: “When I got my certificate, not only did it look like it had been filled in by a 7 year old, it was mangled, because whomever slammed it in the post hadn’t bothered to put any cardboard around it”.
There were other comments such as “hours of my life I can never get back” and more disturbing; “several of us in the USA get the feeling that the IISA is mostly concerned about the IISA membership fee“. Using the word several could be interpreted as exaggeration, except the number of Ice Miles is so low that most are completed in just a few locations. In this case the person making that assertion is highly reputable and involved with running one of the US Ice Mile swims, and does in fact know many of the others Ice Mile swimmers.
This Ice Mile swimming rules discussion requires three parts. In the next part I’ll look at the IISA’s key stated objective of promoting safety in extreme open water and how it significantly currently fails to meet that objective.
Ice Mile Dilemmas Part I – The Trap
Part II – Surprisingly Cold
Part III – Black Rain
Part IV – Local Context