/12 Months Swimmers make splashes year-round
From left to right: Joleen Thomas, Kelly Winder, Katie Cox, and Cheryl Bathe take an icy plunge at Horseshoe Lake. /THOMAS SMITH Staff

12 Months Swimmers make splashes year-round

by Thomas Smith

Joleen Thomas and Amanda Austin started swimming together 16 years ago.

“I had a couple of babies and I was looking for something to do in the summertime that was easy in a postpartum body. I saw this woman had a Waterloo triathlon coat on and asked her at the Early Years Centre if she would swim with me,” says Thomas. “That was 16 years ago.”

“We started swimming all year during [the COVID-19 pandemic] as a way to stay connected. We would swim every morning in the summertime and we would swim into the fall,” says Thomas. “One of our girlfriends was moving to the Netherlands. We wanted a way to stay connected with her and a way to stay connected during the pandemic.”

Their friend, Anje Hilkers, continues to swim throughout the winter in the Netherlands.

“So our summer swimming group changed to the 12 Months Swim Group.”

“Throughout the year, I’d say we have a good core of about 12,” says Thomas. “Some days there’s 2 that come, some days there’s 20.”

“It was before Wim Hof. It was before the whole cold plunge movement,” says Thomas.  “This is such a great thing for us all to do together during the pandemic and stay connected during the lockdowns.”

“Swimming outside in the cold gave us a chance to stay together and kept the camaraderie. It was easier to swim in the cold than go for a walk with six people, says Thomas. “And we liked the challenge. Everyone swims in the cold for a different reason.”

“My resistance to the cold is so much greater,” says Thomas. “Knowing you can be cold and you’re gonna warm up late. It’s a pretty powerful thing. Swimming for me, brain fog, that’s a huge thing. Once I go in, there’s so much clarity afterwards and you’re full of energy.”

“If I’m feeling run down, or I’m about to get sick, I notice my capacity for the cold is diminished quite a bit. It’s not enjoyable. Learning to not push through that and listen is really helpful.” 

“Everyone that does this is smiling when they start and smiling when they leave.”

The age range of swimmers range from 30s to 70 plus, says Thomas.

“When I first started it, I felt really responsible for everybody,” says Thomas. “I took a cold water immersion course so that I felt about choosing a location and appreciating what was happening physiologically when we are going in the water and some of the risks that could happen and how to mitigate those.”

“Most people think it is admirable,” says Thomas. “A lot of people think it’s bananas, absolutely bonkers. I think secretly people are very curious and they really want to and It’s been so fascinating watching our group go.”

The 12 Months Swimmer group has been quickly growing.

“There’s been more interest this year,” says Thomas. “Probably because the weather has been a little bit more favourable, these warmer days. It doesn’t matter, the water is still temperature when it had the ice on it.”

“We’ve had the police called on us. We were swimming in the river in Minden.

Although there is a current, Thomas is confident in the safety precautions and equipment taken to ensure the swimmer’s safety.”

“Research suggests that 11 minutes is the perfect number, per week,” says Thomas. “In the first couple of years, you get this champagne skin afterwards which is like this buzz as soon as you get out of the water and your blood goes to your extremities again.”

“We’re not in there long enough to get hypothermia,” assures Thomas. “You’d have to be in there a long time.”

“We always dream of that perfect big, chunky, snowflake day. Other than lightning, there’s no reason not to go.”

Kelly Winder started swimming with the group on June 31, 2022.

“I saw some people that were in the group that were on my friends list, I would see them post on Facebook that they did a plunge or even doing a summer swim,” says Winder, “I just love swimming.”

“I am really adapted to it. I stay in 10 plus minutes at a time. It’s not a competition but I just think I am still learning more about it too. Trying to figure out what’s safe. Obviously, don’t put yourself into hypothermia.”

While the group swims in lakes throughout Haliburton County, the swimming group primarily meets at Horseshoe Lake.

“It is all for fun and exercise,” says Winder. “This past December, we had 21 out, which is our record number.”

Recently, the group organized a moonlight swim, under the full moon.

“I just love it cause it’s so relaxing,” says Winder. “It’s so good for stress. It’s helped immensely. With the personal stuff I am going through, it’s helped immensely. That and church.”

“It’s becoming so popular,” explains Winder.” “There is a Kingston group that has set a record for most people laughing in the water for three minutes. They do this funny dress up stuff. Athletes are doing it all the time. It’s good for recovery after sports.”

Winder describes it as a wonderful, natural way to get a headrush.

“Come join us,” says Thomas. “Obviously, make sure it’s okay with your doctor. Otherwise, take it slow, wear footwear.”

“ It doesn’t matter if you’re doing summersaults out there or swimming lengths, or standing knee deep, you’re still taking the plunge.”

“No judgement till you try it,” says Thomas.

The 12 Months Swimmers are putting on a Jump in the Lake event on May 4 at 2 p.m. Donations for the event are accepted here: https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/central-food-network/p2p/jump24/