Wednesday, September 2, 2015

60 Seconds With... Karen Weir (Extreme Swimmer)

As part of our #Swim Social series we have been speaking to people who like to take open water swimming to the extreme. Karen Weir from Paisley is definitely one of those Xtreme Swimmers. She prefers the cold water of winter to summer swimming and takes to the water without a wetsuit. Karen has recently taken part in the Winter Swimming Festival in Argentina, which included swimming next to a glacier!

 How did you get into open water swimming?

In 2010 my younger brother Andrew suggested we do the Great Scottish Swim and it looked like great fun. I did say to him we’d have to go out doors and train for it, and it turned out he wasn’t overly keen on the outdoors swimming after all because it was too cold for him. I knew he was never going to swim outdoors with me again so I went on Facebook and found a group already set up, and we went out to Milarrochy Bay near Balmaha. I went out for my first swim not knowing what to expect and it was great fun. I then joined a Facebook group called the Wild West Swimmers, and I haven’t looked back since. We swim every Wednesday and we’re always swimming at the weekend as well.

And I believe you don’t swim in a wetsuit!

I started off in a wetsuit as they were compulsory at lot of the events I took part in the earlier years. The Facebook friends I swam with always wore wetsuits and they would stay out all year long, but over the years I started to take it off and found I preferred to swim without one. I then decided to find out about winter events and now I go to different countries to do winter swimming events and I don’t wear a wetsuit.

You recently took part in the Swimming Festival in Argentina, what was that like?

The International Winter Swimming Association wanted to put together a relay team of about 50 swimmers from 21 different countries who take part in winter swimming events at home. I was honoured when they me asked to be apart of that team. It was a 45km swim across the Rio De La Plata from Colonia, Uruguay back to Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires. It was in two parts with the relay across the river, followed by the swimming event down at the glacier. The event at the glacier was just like a swimming gala, with lanes set out and we did different disciplines including 25 metres, 50 metres, 100 metres, and a relay swim. There was also a 500 metre swim. All in all it was 10 days and two epic swims, which for me was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

It must have been amazing swimming beside a glacier! How do you psych yourself up for getting in water of those temperatures?

I don’t have any rituals before I get in. It’s about getting in as smoothly and quickly as possible. I can see a difference from when I first started swimming in cold water. I would go in and do a bit of head-up breaststroke to get used to it, but now I can comfortably go straight into the water and do front crawl. When I go into the water I just breathe out - because if you gasp it takes your breath away and then it might be harder for you to breathe when you’re swimming. So I just stay nice and relaxed, and then I can enjoy the swimming.

Do you have any outdoor swimming events coming up?

I’ve already booked my flights for a couple of winter events this year.  The first one is in Latvia in November and it’s a swimming gala in a local river. The next one is the Chill Swim event at Lake Windermere. I have taken part in this the last couple of years.  I reached my longest distance of 1km at the Windermere event earlier this year. Next February I go to Estonia to take part in a swimming gala event.

Open Water swimming has become really popular, is there any advice you could give people who are looking to get out on Scotland’s lochs and rivers?

Facebook is a good place to start because you would be surprised by the amount of groups that are on Facebook. There are groups like the Outdoor Swimming Society and Did You Swim Today, and if you post on those pages you’ll find people who can tell you if they’re local and what groups are available for you to join. If there isn’t a group local to you, but you know of a hand full of people who are interested then you can look to the Outdoor Swimming Society for guidance and set up your own local group. That’s how the Wild West Swimmers were put together.

Karen Reid was speaking to Anne Kane (and it certainly took a little longer than 60 seconds!).