Kingston, Ont. group 'cold swimming' in the St. Lawrence River

A group of Kingston, Ont. residents have been keeping up a teeth chattering tradition through the winter months, all in the name of keeping healthy.

Fresh snow glimmers across the ice on the St. Lawrence River, as members of the ‘InsideFire’ cold swimming group arrive for their weekly dip.

“When people see this, they think ‘those people are insane,’ and sometimes when you do it you think ‘I’m insane,'” says Kingston resident Albert Nerenberg.

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He has been using the ‘Wim Hof technique,’ also known as cold emersion, for three years.

“When you go into the water, it’s a shock,” he says. “The water is probably just above freezing right now, It’s definitely a shock. It wakes you up. But when you come out of the water, you feel fantastic.”

Today Nerenberg is wearing a suit and tie for his dip. It’s his way of emulating an unexpected fall through the ice, a chance to conquer that fear.

“You know, I’d always been interested in this idea that the cold is maybe not as scary as people think,” he says.

Nerenberg says that the pandemic got him especially interested in the practice, as it provided a way to get outside in a safe way.

Before the group takes to the frigid water, they do breathing exercises to warm up the body.

“I feel very calm when I’m in there, and after I feel amazing,” says Tom Spencer. “When I was depressed, I didn’t enjoy colours or anything, and I just enjoy everything after. I enjoy the taste of food, I enjoy plants, the sky. I just feel amazing after.”

Spencer has been cold swimming for more than three years now and says it has had a profound affect on his mental health.

“Essentially, your body is reacting to fight or flight,” Spencer says. “It teaches you that you can calm yourself in a life or death situation. So with that same mind set, I’ve found that I can take it into the rest of my everyday life.”

The group uses an axe and a ladder to clear a section of ice, creating a safe area for emersion before the plunges begin.

“What a lovely day,” one swimmer says as he submerges shoulder-deep into the icy water.

Nerenberg acts out a scenario in which he accidentally falls through the ice, remaining calm and cracking a few jokes.

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“I feel refreshed, clear, upbeat…minty,” he says. “But I have to be careful that this is only about ten minutes, cause it’s cold. It’s about minus eight or nine without the wind so, it’s pretty cold out right now.”

Nerenberg, Spencer and the other group members all say they feel great when it’s over.

After drying off and getting warm, they all head back to their cars with a parting “see you Wednesday!”

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