NZ ice swimming champs ‘unique’

Queenstown swimmer Bethany Rogers trains in Lake Wakatipu for the upcoming New Zealand Ice...
Queenstown swimmer Bethany Rogers trains in Lake Wakatipu for the upcoming New Zealand Ice Swimming Pool Champs, to be held in Alexandra from tomorrow to Saturday. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Ice in their veins will be a requirement — albeit metaphorical — for 50 of the country’s toughest ice swimmers this week.

The New Zealand Ice Swimming Pool Championships begin in Alexandra tomorrow, the second time the town’s outdoor pool has hosted the event. The water must be at or below 5°C and competitors must swim unassisted, with just a silicon cap, pair of goggles and standard togs.

Event director Susan Sherwen said while there was a degree of risk, people came out of the water "absolutely buzzing".

"It’s a unique event — it’s nothing like a normal pool swimming event just because of the challenges of the elements."

These elements did bring a level of danger, she said.

"Some of the longer events, some of [the swimmers] will be suffering from mild hypothermia but we get them out, get them dressed and they warm up reasonably quickly.

"Yes, it’s dangerous but we make it as safe as possible."

This year, four medics would be on site and a clean bill of health, including an ECG, was required before swimmers got in the water, she said.

Lifeguards in wetsuits would be on stand-by to remove anyone struggling from the water.

"We have no hesitation in jumping and grabbing them out."

While some swimmers were getting nervous ahead of the event, that showed they were aware of the dangers, she said.

Competitors came from across the country and ages varied from those in their teens to swimmers nearing 70.

The extreme nature of the sport fostered a sense of camaraderie among the swimmers, she said.

Top swimmers would represent New Zealand at the world championships in Italy next year.

The pool’s temperature had been ideal — sitting at about 4°C, where she hoped it would remain.

Bethany Rogers, of Queenstown, will be competing in the championship for the second time.

She regularly swims in Lake Wakatipu during winter, which has helped her acclimatise to the cold.

"It’s quite empowering knowing that you can push your body to that degree and knowing that you can, not just survive, but kind of thrive in that environment.

"Once I’m swimming it just feels amazing."

Getting in and out of the water was the most challenging part of the sport, she said.

"So much of it’s in your head and I think that’s the challenge that I enjoy.

"Swimming seems quite tame but it’s kind of fun to take it to an illogical conclusion."

The championships run until Saturday.