‘I have a busy mind. Ice swimming is the only thing that stops it’

By evening she’s a grocery store shelf stacker, by day she’s a record-setting ice swimmer. Meet the ‘Merthyr Mermaid’, whose bathtub is a freezer

Stacking cabinets on the twilight shift at her native grocery store, Cath Pendleton desires of plunging into azure polar seas.

Higher recognized in out of doors circles because the Merthyr Mermaid, she is one in all a rising brigade of untamed swimmers who get their kicks from the chew of freezing winter waters.

It’s a ardour which has taken her from the Welsh Valleys to a Guinness-record-setting entrance crawl in Antarctica’s Southern Ocean at a fraction above 0C (32F), a feat she achieved whereas single-handedly elevating two youngsters.

“I discover it exhausting when individuals name me an athlete, as a result of actually I’m simply somebody who loves chilly water swimming,” laughs Pendleton. “I’m by no means going to be the quickest, however all the identical – I don’t suppose I’ve accomplished too badly for a single mum from Merthyr Tydfl!”

Pendleton’s journey to ice swimming world-record holder started eight years in the past after a again harm put paid to her triathlon ambitions. She targeted as an alternative on wild swimming, making mild work of dips within the River Usk on the foot of the Brecon Beacons. She quickly graduated to an previous ironworks pond on a mountain plateau above Abergavenny. There, she ticked off her first ‘Ice Mile’, which below International Ice Swimming Association guidelines needs to be swum sporting simply a typical costume, goggles and swim hat in waters at or below 5C (41F).

“Once you get in, you’re preventing that chilly shock response, so to recover from it I’d sing Jingle Bells, generally with swear phrases,” she says. “I’ve since began singing Membership Tropicana, or Feeling Scorching Scorching Scorching.”

Ice swimming

Singing a impolite model of Jingle Bells helps Pendleton push via the ache. Picture: Mark Griffiths

Juggling acclimatisation swims with the calls for of household life and her then job as an NHS smoking cessation adviser known as for some inventive parenting. “I’d drag the pair of them to the pond with me and bribe them with the promise of a takeaway on the best way again,” she says of her two daughters.

The exhausting work paid off with a bronze medal within the Worldwide Ice Swimming Championships in Russia in 2019, resulting in an invitation to affix a visit to the Antarctic Circle the next yr. Solely the small matter of a £10k expedition price stood in the best way. 

“I raided the home for issues to promote,” says Pendleton. “I flogged a motorbike and a few previous curler skates for my ‘Antarctic dream fund’ – then there’d be a college dinner invoice and it was gone.”

Fortunately, sponsorship offers secured her place on the journey, and he or she ramped up her coaching regime. “I discovered a second-hand chest freezer for £50 and put in it within the backyard shed, crammed it with ice and sat in it twice every week,” she says. “It was terrible!”

Her coaching regime? Ice baths in a second-hand chest freezer she put in in her shed. Picture: Mark Griffiths

Six months later, she set sail from Ushuaia on the southern spur of Argentina for Hanusse Bay in Antarctica. On arrival, her swim was nearly derailed by a 40-strong pod of orcas arcing via her deliberate route.

Her route adjusted to keep away from a flotilla of ice slabs disturbed by the orcas, Pendleton slipped from a dinghy into the briny blue for the mile-long swim again to her ship. She emerged, purple-lipped and giddy with hypothermia a bit of over half-hour later, holding the world document for essentially the most southerly ice swim by a girl – in water measuring simply 0.03C (32F).

Later this yr, Pendleton hopes to repeat her outstanding feat on the different finish of the planet, with a mile-long swim within the Arctic, which can make her the primary on the earth to go the gap inside each polar circles.

I discovered a second-hand chest freezer for £50 and put in it within the backyard shed

Pendleton says the true pleasure of an icy dip, although, lies within the camaraderie along with her fellow swimmers. The gasps and expletives, searching for one another as they shiver via the ‘afterdrop’, when physique temperatures proceed to plummet even after exiting the water, and the breathless fumble to dress with stiffened fingers.

“Even laughing at one another after we’re shivering so exhausting we tip meals throughout ourselves,” Pendleton says.

And though proof factors to a physiological enhance from chilly water swimming, for Pendleton, its delights are all in her head.

“I’ve bought such a busy thoughts, ice swimming is the one factor that stops it,” she says.“I name it my ‘control-alt’ reset button. I’m within the water, targeted on my stroke, on my respiration – my thoughts’s fully free.”

Chilled out, in different phrases, taken to a really literal nth diploma.

Predominant picture: Mark Griffiths

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