Ice Swim

Sunday, February 3, 2013

I pushed my limits today. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. To push oneself beyond ones means is an incredible feat to experience. My choice of poison was the vast and beautiful Long Island Sound. Today I attempted my qualifying ice swim so that I could certify myself into the International Ice Swimming Association (IISA). Unfortunately the powerful element claimed a small victory over me today.

It all began on Tuesday, I believe. Well, that’s not true – it began as a thought quite a long while ago, but I decided this past Tuesday to make the call. I claimed Sunday as my day and began my last minute preparation to get there. Here. My dad, Richard, and Ed Riley planned all the appropriate safety precautions and prepped on what they’d do for this and that. JC Malick helped in providing all the info from his ice swim to make sure no aspects were overlooked. Word was spread a bit about the weekend adventure and some wonderful people committed to supporting me despite it being Super Bowl day.

Saturday night as the snow began to fall, I found myself struggling between two mindsets: am I really insane or does the snow just make it that much more awesome?! Obviously my mind decided awesome was the answer. And so came Sunday. I began my Sunday with a swim of 47 50’s (for the 47th Super Bowl) at the Rye Y in support of MAC Angels with some incredible guys. A great morning swim to kick start my heart rate and start to pump me up. After running a few last errands, JC, my dad, Eri, and I ran though a few points of the safety plan and then headed down to the manor. The Grinnells, family friends, were overly kind enough to lend their house as our home-base, as their house was just up the road from our starting beach. Many fantastic friends showed up to support my crazy adventure. Funny though, “crazy” is a term I am called on nearly an everyday basis, yet despite the most common decision by others to never even consider doing whatever it is I do to be dubbed that nickname, support was something I have had since the beginning.

Everyone headed down to the beach at noon and the time came to take the plunge… And then keep going.




Family onlookers, my dad with the green kayak, and Ed in the purple kayak.

I stripped down to my obnoxious bathing suit – if you’re going to do something this outlandish, why not make a statement.



A few people asked me what I was thinking about as I swam along. Well, I couldn’t really tell you. In the first few moments on submerging, my top priority was soothing my breathing. From past experience I knew the importance of remaining calm so that my body and face could acclimate enough and get used to the temperature. My face didn’t take too long to feel okay in the water so I quickly came in to a smooth rhythm. I did tend to breathe heavily and often but I think that was also in part because I was keeping a strong and relatively fast pace. With my dad and Ed by my side in kayaks and Chris Grinnell also nearby on his paddle board, I took comfort in feeling their close proximity. My course was planned as an out and back loop and because of the relatively short distance (yardage wise) my overpowering mantra was that all I had to do was get to the end and then I could come back. Don’t get me wrong, I was (oddly, I know) enjoying the swim! I won’t deny it was cold though – even I know that 34/35F water is cold. Though cold is simply the lack of heat really, right??

Anywhoooo. Nearing my turnaround point a pain that had developed on the under sides of my hands began to be unbearable. My hands were numb – okay, that’s normal and something I’ve experienced before. My feet were numb – again, okay, that is normal. My arms and legs became heavy and numb as well – don’t judge me, but that too is normal… Though not something I’ve really ever enabled my body to undergo so fully before. It was not the numbness that bothered me (yeah yeah, CRAZY… I get it). I was completely coherent, not stumbling or slurring my words, and knew exactly who is was, where I was, and what I was doing. Thankfully I did not black out either (a common symptom in hypothermia). Mentally, I was present and in it. But my hands screamed uncle. They felt as though someone had stabbed them repeatedly with knives and ached beyond belief. I swam a few strokes with my head above water at that point to let my dad, Chris, and Ed know how I was feeling. My hands began bothering my right from the start and the fact that they became so excruciating by that point was terribly uncomfortable. I told them I wanted to turn back in the direction of the beach – the start and finish point – so that I would be closer if I needed to come out. So we turned back.




Then it got rough. I put great effort into telling myself I could do it, that I could finish what I started. I convinced myself I wasn’t cold and that the temperature really wasn’t bothering me nearly as much as it may have been. Numbness was easier for me to overcome because when you can’t feel anything there isn’t much else to think about. Except pain. Pain is a remarkable thing. It is not something you can ever remember the strength of but in a particular moment it can be the most overwhelming experience of your life. Looking back now I wish I had just pushed myself to finish but I know that in that moment it must have been too excruciating if i made that coherent decision to stop. As I made my way back I had 300-400 yards to go to complete my mile but as I looked toward the beach and yelled obscenities (I apologize again – Chris, dad, and Ed… You took my abuse like champs!) I felt that finishing even that short extra distance meant possible harm to my body. Unfortunately it was not a distance my body felt wise to do. I swam in to shore just shy of my goal.

To be perfectly honest, I am disappointed in myself for not having finished the mile. Not because my body reached its limit but because I was coherent enough to make the decision that I needed to stop. I set a goal for myself and today was not my day to accomplish that. I will do this again in the next month hopefully and I will complete the swim and certify myself for the IISA. I suppose I can’t be too hard on myself because I know that swimming for a strong and steady 19 minutes in a water temperature of 34/35F and with an air temperature of 24-26F and completing just under a mile is an amazing feat in itself and I know that I will succeed in my next attempt.



The post swim was the most exciting. Have you ever experienced warming someone that slightly (okay, maybe a little more than slightly) hypothermic? It is quite the experience. Thankfully since I didn’t blackout I do remember all the wonderful details. After my dad and Ed carried me from the water to the car and after Charlie Moore and umm.. Chris(?) carried me from the car in to Chris’s basement, the fun began. I yelled more obscenities at Ed for being an ass (in my opinion at the time) and telling me I wasn’t allowed to take a shower yet. Instead, I laid on the heated basement tile surrounded by multiple warm bodies, heating pads, and blankets. Eri was an incredible warmer behind me… And Ed, his son Ed, my lovely aunt Suzie, and many other awesome, warm friends coddled me to share their warmth. My feet were purple and blue and white and swollen… I think someone got a photo so when I get those I will be sure to share. The blanket concoction as well. This process was longer than the swim but eventually I did get my shower – once my circulation came back in to my feet and my shivering was more under control, and I was nearly back to normal. As I mentioned, I will share post swim photos when they are passed my way.

I am so grateful to every single person that came to support me today. Also for all the support in spirit from those who weren’t there. I could never have even considered pushing myself nearly that far if it weren’t for each and every person who offered me a hand, physically and mentally. Being “crazy” is fun and so much more manageable when you have such wonderful supportive people to be a part of the adventure. Thanks so much for a wonderful and thrilling day, EVERYONE!

Sweet dreams, world 🙂

13 thoughts on “Ice Swim

  1. Devon, this is a huge accomplishment. Please remember that it is also a huge accomplishment to know when it it time to stop. It is the necessary counterbalance to knowing when to continue on — while I realize that a mile is the magic number, I hope, am sure that you and your dad know that this swim was a huge victory for you in many ways. Beyond swimming and water. Self-knowledge, confidence, power, all will serve you in many ways on dry land! Hugs from the Otto-Moudrys

  2. stunning and don’t be hard.. be honest and whatever turned you back always listen to it.. the fight has to be there to recover.. has to be.. you did good and it is there..

  3. Devon,

    So proud of your truly amazing accomplishments! You inspire people.

    You’ve inspired me to get out of my comfort zone, to swim further than I ever thought I was capable of, to swim w/o my wetsuit, to swim in cold water (well not that cold relative to this!).

    I know I am one of many who are inspired by you and proud to know you, to swim with you and to call you my friend!


  4. Devon
    You are teaching a lesson to all who want to go further and beyond what they think are their
    intreseque limits
    You are gorgeous.
    Thanks for being such a woman
    Christine (Olivia s Mom)

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