Timonene (hello...in Chitonga!:)
Sunday December 8th was my first official winter swim for RIPPLE Africa. I've been testing the waters ever since fall arrived, feeling the water temperature slowly decline to a now 38 degrees. Sunday was an Eastern (ESE) wind at about 12mph, 2-4 foot waves, and a wind chill of 16 degrees. Perfect. 

Just like embarking on a 5-month mission to Malawi several years ago, even meticulous preparation cannot prepare you for the culture shock that awaits; or in this case the chilly water knocking the air right out of ya! Let’s talk about both, shall we.

Like any big decision, I spent months contemplating the idea of leaving my job to volunteer. Giving up the structured life of a 9-5 in pursuit of an unknown adventure was an intimidating proposition. However, once the decision was made and my two-weeks given, I began assessing all the steps needed prior to my journey. Vaccinations (all 13 shots of 'em), medical insurance, international credit cards, flights (one-way!) were all details not be overlooked. Pushing yourself into the unknown is one of life's great adrenaline kicks: One you have total control over. Akin to preparing for a mission to RIPPLE Africa, weekly swims into Lake Michigan require the respect of methodical preparation as well. 

Let's begin Week 1 with answering the question people ask most often: How?

And let's put a cherry on top of it. This is to be done without ever feeling my body shiver. I'm not exactly portly, and get cold easily (this is of course, without the sweat factor): movie theaters, cold office buildings, and the frozen section at a grocery store.....burrrrr I say!

Layering is the biggest factor. Why? Because this shiver ‘less swim is made possible by your own body's heat: It's why you shiver in cold weather, despite being bundled up. And as such, why you shed layers on a winter run. It's science people!

Keeping that body heat in, you need to wear the right clothing and layer properly. Here's what I do:

  1. -Under Armour compression shorts (what I strip down to and swim in)
  2. -Thermo running pants (keep that wind out of ya biz'nas!)
  3. -Compression socks + extra cotton sock layer
  4. -Extra pair of wool socks for afterward
  5. -Synthetic long sleeve T-shirts as base layer
  6. -Second synthetic T-shirt
  7. -Third long sleeve cotton T-shirt
  8. -Fleece /pullover (or cardigan, thanks for asking)
  9. -Basic fleece jacket
  10. -Windbreaker RIPPLE Africa orange jacket
  11. -2 pairs of gloves (3rd pair for once out of water)
  12. -Ski Gator for neck protection
  13. -The biggest hat you got!
  14. -Small hand towel (not for warmth, but for quickly whisking off water)

These layers work up your body’s natural heat, while protecting you from the winter elements whilst running to the lake. It's the pre-swim sweat, often a 5 mile run at 7min per mile pace that affords your body the opportunity to swim in such conditions. 

And not to forget the after-effects of coming out of the water (where most people question such actions), having a non-sweaty synthetic shirt, extra pair of gloves and wool socks allows you to calmly spend about a few minutes devoid of clothes in sub-freezing air, without the faintest of shiver. Actually, it is this moment that is most calming.

In conclusion, to dilute the question of: 'Why' even further, this swim represents a way to overcome a societal and bodily misconception that we can't stay warm in a Chicago winter, even while swimming in Lake Michigan. And like volunteering with RIPPLE Africa, preparing for a journey of life-affirming change, if you're properly prepared it can be a walk in the park....or a swim in the lake.  

Help me support RIPPLE Africa by making a donation below. 

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Patrick Gazley
12/16/2013 6:35am

wow...the comments do work! Merry Christmas!

06/15/2017 10:05pm

Your job is one of the coolest jobs in the world, literally. Dealing with cold water and having your body soaked to it was kind of a challenge, especially if you are a person who hates anything cold. But personally, how I wish I can do the same things you usually do. You are actually a goal for me! And the fact that you are doing all of these for a charity to help those people who are in need is simply admirable.

03/12/2016 12:24am

This fitness and training article shares with you how swimming can be a great way to improve stamina, increase energy and fight workplace fatigue. Swimming is a great all round activity for increasing your endurance and fitness. It is also non-impact which makes it an ideal activity for people of all ages and abilities. Find information about surfing in Atlantis-bali-diving.com.

11/05/2016 11:52am

Amazing tips shared regarding to swimming. Swimming is an amazing art that could be learned by many but only few of them could learn it well.


A good tip before swimming. You share a lot tips more in the future

08/16/2017 8:18am

Winter swim? I am not prepared for that. It might be dangerous for my health I think.


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