A cold-blooded New Brunswicker’s love affair with ice swimming

Nadine Bennett competes in the 200 meter freestyle event at the Memphremagog Winter Swim Festival in Vermont.  (Kathleene Marcil - photo credit)

Nadine Bennett competes in the 200 meter freestyle event at the Memphremagog Winter Swim Festival in Vermont. (Kathleene Marcil – photo credit)

Most people would be reluctant to go out into the open water on a -19C day in February, but Nadine Bennett isn’t most people.

The longtime open water swimmer from Upper Cape, NB, has spent the last eight years competing in ice swimming, a sport that sees athletes swim several kilometers in freezing water.

When 49-year-old Bennett first raised the topic of ice swimming with her family, her reaction was incredulous.

“I think my family and especially my husband say, ‘You know, you always complain that you’re cold. Why would you go swimming in cold water?’”

But as soon as she slipped into the frigid waters of the Northumberland Strait, she was hooked. She trains in Baie Verte.

Joseph Polz

Joseph Polz

In eight years, Bennett has only gone a month without at least one outdoor pool.

“There’s a lot of camaraderie around it and it just makes [me] feel pretty alive,” she said.

“There’s just something to it. Once you find like-minded people who enjoy doing it, it’s just really fun.”

After years in the cold water, Bennett said she doesn’t experience shock when she takes a dip.

She swims in open water all year round, which means that she is constantly acclimating to the water temperature as the seasons change.

Submitted by Nadine Bennett

Submitted by Nadine Bennett

Still, Bennett said safety should be a top priority for anyone looking to start the sport.

“You have to train for it and prepare your body for it and make sure you practice how to warm up and dress right after to … protect your skin.”

While Bennett said the sport has always had its fans, especially in Europe, it’s also starting to get a bigger following in Canada.

She participates in the Memphremagog Winter Swim Festival, where dozens of ice swimmers travel to a lake on the Vermont-Quebec border to compete. There is a growing team Canada.

Delphy photography

Delphy photography

“When I first came to this event seven years ago, there [were] a few Canadians,’ said Bennett. ‘In the second year I was the only one. Now we have about 20 here at the event.”

While there is definitely a competitive aspect to the sport, Bennett said she participates more for the love of swimming and competing against herself.

“For me, it’s really more… can I really step into that cold water? Will I be able to maintain my control and steady breathing while swimming? Does it feel good? am i having a good time And that’s really what I’m about, and not the actual time itself,” Bennett said.

Delphy photography

Delphy photography

Bennett said she has no plans to quit any time soon.

“I plan to just walk as long as my body can take it and if there’s ever a point where I can’t, I won’t. But if not, then I will show up here every year.”


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