Risk & Reminders

I regularly get comments particularly from work colleagues who refer to my swim activities as extreme, I laugh this off generally, as I don’t consider what I do to be extreme.

However, with the deaths today of 2 people in Lake Michigan, I am sure I shall hear some new comments and if I am honest, today’s news shook me a little particularly while waiting for more details and hoping that it was no one I knew.

Firstly I have to say, from the photos I have seen today of the “swimmers” they were not what I would describe as swimmers. I saw no swim hats, no goggles and swim suits that would be questionable for a swim today at best. However this does not take away from the risks that we all have to be aware of and the sadness of anyone dying in the lake.

Getting a little more personal in this, yes I take risks. I like to think they are calculated. However in summer months I probably take more than I should when I regularly swim alone. In the past, I had a tendency not to necessarily make anyone aware when I was going swimming. This is a habit I have generally gotten out of (I still like to swim on my own regularly) I also have an agreement now with my better half that if she is out of town, I am not allowed swim in the lake on my own.

In the colder months I do not swim alone, this is due to the increased risks of complications occurring while swimming.

So what risks do I consider every time I swim.

Weather:

I check on this a lot, during summer months I review the beach warnings daily, I check the buoy by the beach I normally swim at, it gives me a photo, air temp, water temp and wave height. Basically all the info I need to make a decision. But all final decisions come down to my gut when I see the water.

Ability:

I sometimes play down my swim ability, but the reality also is I am a fairly competent swimmer, I have swam through white caps, I have swam for 13+ continuous hours, I have completed 4 hour swims in 56f. However I always, always know that the water is the boss, Lake Michigan can turn on me in a matter of mins. I have been swimming with clear skies, to 5 mins later storms and 5 mins after that back to clear skies. I make gut decisions during these moments with regard to my abilities.

Health:

Like everyone there are days I just don’t feel great. Sometimes getting out in the water is the salve I need to feel better. However I have also gotten in the water and gotten out 5 mins later for various reasons such as not seemingly being able to warm up, aches, pains and something just not feeling right.

Venue:

I have swam when traveling which means new locations, new obstacles, unknown features. It’s important to look around and know your access and exit points.

Cold water swimming:

This is a combination of the things I have said above, all of us have different abilities, tolerance and levels at which we consider water cold. From a personal view, anything above 60f does not constitute cold and I will go to high 40s low 50s for water I can swim in with just my shorts and hats. But this is a personal decision and I am not one to comment on anyone in wetsuits or who just want to skip this kind of swimming altogether.

Cold water has a whole host of effects that need to be considered and planned for. This past weekend for example, required clothes that could be removed right before water entry and easily put back on, hot drink for re warming etc.

Swimming with others in cold water also involves checking on each other, talking. Talking can tell you a lot, are they slurring, are they making sense. I know on Saturday for a little bit after first getting in my ability to string a full sentence was limited but it came back. And this leads to another key point, don’t panic, the bodies natural reaction is to shock, the diaphragm lifts you have to calm your breathing. Gain control which is also partially a mental ability. However if you feel uncomfortable beyond your abilities get out, be done, there are no heroes in putting yourself in distress.

Every year I take my time to acclimatize, for me this means in April going to the lake and entering really slowly and then getting out and then getting back in and back out. My body adapts by doing this, I don’t go in to shock, I don’t go in to a panic. It prepares me.

This brings us back to today and also something that happen every April/May in Chicago, the weather gets warm the air temp goes up, people jump in the lake they are not prepared for the temperature and shock and people drown and I get the same questions about what I am doing and why.

However, what I do and the swimmers I know do is take calculated risks, we know to prepare, we plan, we coordinate, we work together for our safety and we do not take risks beyond our abilities.

Yours a sad and distracted Somewhat adequate swimmer

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