One cold-blooded New Brunswicker's love affair with ice swimming
Most people would bristle at taking to open water on a -19 C day in February, but Nadine Bennett isn't most people.
The longtime open-water swimmer from Upper Cape, N.B., has spent the last eight years participating in ice swimming, a sport where athletes swim multiple kilometre stretches in ice-cold water.
When the 49-year-old Bennett first broached the subject of ice swimming with her family, their response was disbelief.
"I think my family, and my husband especially, say, 'You know, you always complain that you're cold. Why would you want to go swim in cold water?'"
But once she slipped into the frigid waters of the Northumberland Strait she was hooked. She trains in Baie Verte.
In eight years, Bennett has only gone one month without at least one outdoor swim.
"There's a lot of camaraderie around it and it just makes [me] feel pretty alive," she said.
"There's just something about it. Once you find like-minded people that like to do it, it's just a really fun thing."
After years in the cold water, Bennett said she doesn't experience any shock when she takes a dip.
She swims in open water all year, which means she steadily acclimatizes to the water temperature as the seasons change.
Still, Bennett said safety should be a top priority for anyone looking to take up the sport.
"You have to be training for it and getting your body ready for it, and making sure that you practise how to warm up and dress right afterwards to … protect your skin."
While Bennett said the sport has always had its fans, especially in Europe, it's starting to get a larger following in Canada as well.
She's participating in the Memphremagog Winter Swim Festival, which sees dozens of ice swimmers travel to a lake on the Vermont-Quebec border to compete in races. There is a growing Team Canada.
"When I first started coming to this event seven years ago, there [were] a couple of Canadians," said Bennett. "The second year I was the only one. Now we have about 20 here at the event."
While there's definitely a competitive aspect to the sport, Bennett said she participates more out of a love of swimming and competing against herself.
"For me, it's really more … can I really step down into that cold water? Am I going to be able to maintain my control and my calm breathing while I swim? Does it feel good? Am I having a good time? And that's really what it's all about for me, rather than the actual time itself," said Bennett.
Bennett said she doesn't plan to stop anytime soon.
"I plan on just going for as long as my body will do it, and if there's ever a point where I can't, I won't. But if not, then I will be showing up here every year."