Two years ago I finished my very long series about Ice Mile Swimming. In that series I set out to describe a journey of personal attempts to complete an Ice Mile, my reason for so doing, which was at odds with the rest of people who achieve an Ice Mile, and subsequently my investigation of the deficiencies in the rules of the International Ice Swimming Association, and the real significant hazards of Ice Mile swimming.
During the course of that series I communicated with cold water swimmers around the world. Most of them indicated some degree of support for my criticism and agreed about the risks and hazards of extreme cold water swimming. I still receive agreement from many of you about this subject.
As an informal group, the discussion continued, informally and humoursly we’ve been calling ourselves the Ice Mile Rebels for some time now. The group eventually numbered just over twenty swimmers and a couple of swim organisers. Fifteen of the group are successful Ice Mile swimmers. Twenty are Channel swimmers, including the English, North, Catalina, Gibraltar and Cook Straits. The USA, the UK, South Africa, Ireland, Russia, the Czech Republic, Australia and New Zealand are represented in the group.
As a consequence of these exchanges, we decided over the course of some months that we should act and set ourselves two tasks.
1. To stop Ice Mile swimming being considered for the Winter Olympics.
2. To improve the rules of Ice Swimming and the IISA.
These are not in particular order. Early on in Ice Mile swimming, the unquestioning coverage of the dangers of Ice Mile swimming allowed the IISA to set the hubristic and irresponsible goal of having Ice Mile swimming added to the roster of sports for the 2019 Winter Olympics.
The IMR (Ice Mile Rebels) group felt that such a goal was exactly the wrong message to send about Ice Mile swimming. The possibility of being able to call oneself an Olympian would drive inexperienced extreme cold swimmers to test themselves pursuit without sufficient training, experience, or safety considerations. The idea of “swimming trials” for such an event only increased the risk. People would increasingly attempt backyard unofficial Ice Miles as a test, more often than not without and safety planning. More people would be in danger, and most would happen in cold lakes away from the spotlight or even enumeration. As a South African Ice Mile swimmer said to me, “the greatest danger in Ice Mile swimming is in the training, when there is safety cover, no collection of data or serious incidents, no learning by the community as a whole“.
We believed, based on our collective experiences around Ice Mile swimming and what we’d all witnessed, that many people would plunge into danger, in a hope of measuring themselves against what they believed would be an Olympian ideal. It was not the Ice Mile in a Winter Olympics per se that concerned us, but the message it would send, and the dangers that would spawn as a consequence.
We formulated a mission to contact the International Olympic Committee and the exhibition sport sub-committee, to put our grave concerns about the pursuit itself to them and lobby against any move to include Ice Mile Swimming in the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics.
In our extensive communications we put forward as our primary concerns the actual real dangers of Ice Mile Swimming which have been elided over by the IISA including severe hypothermia, cardiac arrest, post-rescue collapse, and frostbite. To this we added the “Jackass” factor. People seeing things being done publicly will do stupid things themselves in a reckless attempt at emulation, but without the requisite understanding or preparation.
To pursue this task we took a multi-pronged approach.
1. We enlisted the assistance of academics and hypothermia researchers from Canada, Finland, America and England to provide the scientific backing to our mission.
2. We provided testimony and interviews from documented Ice Mile Swimmers on their personal experiences.
3. We provided testimony of fraudulent swims and other witnessed problems within the sport.
4. We provided our collective extreme cold water experience and thoughts in a series of individual messages.
As an backup, we considered proposing the traditional, more safety conscious, longer-existing and less ego-driven sport of Winter Swimming as an alternative, though we wished to avoid using this alternative against dilution of the message. We were glad that we did not have to discuss this further.
It is with great satisfaction and no small measure of thanks to the international Ice Mile Rebel cadre, that we last month received official notification from the International Olympic Committee and the Winter Olympics Sub-Committee for Exhibition Sports that Ice Swimming would not be considered for inclusion in the 2018 or 2022 Winter Olympics as an exhibition sport.
From what I understand, it never even made it to the IOC Executive Board where decisions on new and exhibition sports are taken.
Our second task outlined above, of improving IISA safety, is ongoing. We weren’t united in agreement about the future of Ice Mile swimming, only in improving the situation.
Some of our little group of Ice Mile swimmers are, (unlike me), still involved in the sport and a couple are working directly and successfully (and covertly) within the organisation. Within the organisation they improve the rules and drive safety considerations and entry requirements to a more acceptable standard. It’s the age-old dilemma of how best to change an organisation; from within, or from outside. In this case, the group as a whole is doing both. (I’d like to think of them as secret agents within the IISA, but in truth that would be nonsense as they are not reporting to me or anyone, and are working to improve things from within according to their own ideals).
I’d like to thank the International Olympic Committee, the Winter Olympic Sub-Committee and the Exhibition Sport sub-committee for their engaging with us, their responsiveness and acceptance of our communication as truly amateur sports-people, and ultimately, their positive action.
I hope you will also congratulate all those who were involved. I’d also like to thank those swimmers and organizers who cared enough about the safety of others and the reputation of open water swimming to have pursued and achieved such a significant recognition of the responsibility of extreme cold water swimmers to the sport as a whole.