STEPHENVILLE — While the majority of people are bundled up in their warmest clothes during the colder months of the year, a group of women from the Stephenville area are headed for a swim. The Cold Water Cowgirl Swim Club, who had their first official swim on May 19, 2021, get together once or twice a month when it’s brisk, to go for a dip.
Lori Deely, who organized the group, said they have about eight members and there are also six to eight members in Corner Brook, who they sometimes get together with as well.
“The first time we swam was at Gull Pond, and it was very cold. Gull Pond is always cold. We just all felt very invigorated, energized, and really alive after doing it. Then we decided we would try and do it as often as possible, and it’s weather dependent. The last time we swam was Jan. 1 of this year.”
Deely had a personal goal of visiting 100 different swimming spots in Newfoundland, and she accomplished that in Nov. 2021. Now she is painting each location. She is currently working on number 58.
She said that doing this together has given the women a sense of camaraderie and support.
“Some of the women were actually scared to do it. I had swam in cold water before, so I knew it wasn’t going to kill me. You control things, and because I was a swimming instructor and a lifeguard, I think they felt comfortable with me that I would pick good conditions and safe places to swim and watch out for everybody.”
Deely said there are numerous physical and mental health benefits from a short three-to-four-minute swim, as long as it is during the really cold months.
“Some of the women do it for mental health. I know I find November a really difficult month to get through. It’s just dark and dreary and the leaves are gone off the trees. The sunlight is gone and it’s just a tough month to get through. I find, once the snow hits, then I can get outside and there’s things to do. But November is just the doldrums and this year, swimming in the cold water, it got me through that rotten month. It was something to look forward to, something to get excited about. As it grew, we support each other, we encourage each other, and a lot of women have gained confidence, not just in their ability to jump into the cold water. I think it boosts your confidence to do other things too. If you’re brave enough to do this, you’re brave enough to do something else too.”
There are some things to keep in mind for those who choose to try this activity on their own, including the possibility of rip currents and knowing one’s own limitations.
“Obviously, you shouldn’t go alone. I would say if you have underlying health conditions you should probably check with your doctor first. There’s environmental things you have to look for like… there are days we can swim down here in the bay and then there’s other days it’s just too rough. You can get really high waves and you’re really unsure of what’s underneath. Here there’s not a sandy bottom, so you can get tumbled around in the waves pretty easily because the rocks are slippery.”
The Cold Water Cowgirls wear neoprene boots and gloves to protect their hands and feet and even wet suits when it gets really cold. Protective clothing is extremely important.
“We get in slowly because we don’t want to shock the system too much. You’re shocking your system, but you don’t want your heart to go ‘Oh no. What have you done?’ Some people in the beginning would jump in and they found that they would kind of lose their breath, almost like getting winded, so they started slowing down a bit more, but you don’t want to go too slow or then it’s too painful.”
The trick is to get changed out of wet clothes as quickly as possible to warm up right away and not catch a chill, but overall it’s a very safe activity, even though the first time can be quite intense.
“It’s a controlled swim. It’s not like falling through the ice, and I would never dig a hole in the ice and jump in. That’s beyond me. You can get out whenever you want. You can get in as slow as you like. It’s always a little bit of a shock, but it’s so invigorating. Your blood is pumping and you really feel alive and awake. Afterwards you are just pumped. You are so hyper-aware of everything.”
While a lot of groups and organizations are hindered by the pandemic, the Cold Water Cowgirls aren’t hindered by the restrictions.
“It’s helped us get through the whole COVID thing too. It’s a safe activity and it’s outdoors. Your mind is off of the COVID stuff for a while. Because I was trying to do 100 different places, it got us out to places we hadn’t swam before too, or gotten us to explore new places, which was fun. There’s so many beautiful places in Newfoundland to swim; so much fresh water and clean water. We’re very fortunate.”
These cold water swims have given the group a sense of belonging and accomplishment in doing something they set out to do.
“It’s mind over matter and once you’ve done it you can’t help but feel proud of yourself, even if people think you’re a little bit crazy.”