Humans of Campbell River: Ocean Swims
Humans of Campbell River is a collaboration between Destination Campbell River and Bluetree Photography. Showcasing the stories of those who call our coastal community home. Each week we deep dive into a new story, our first feature tells the story of how Yarrow began her journey to swimming in the ocean 365 days of the year.
Christmas Eve, I found myself floating in the freezing cold ocean alongside my almost 70yr old, vibrant, adventurous mom and 6 of her friends. She was then on day 70+ of consecutive ocean swims. Unbeknownst to me, I was on day 1 of what would become a journey of healing self-love and community.
A few years ago I heard about this crazy Dutchman, the Iceman they called him, Wim Hof. His incredible story, passion for breath-work and using cold exposure as a healing method captured my interest. When the world shifted gears so suddenly last spring, I began to practice Wim Hof’s breath-work method but the cold water immersion didn’t appeal to me, shocking right?! As the mounting pressures of navigating this new normal continued to wear on, and the added stress of being a healthcare provider, this winter I felt the need for something different and started daily cold showers. Honestly, they were awful. But weirdly they became something I looked forward to. I could feel my nervous system regulating and positive shifts happening in my stress levels. And then my mom started ocean swimming every day.
Watching and cheering my mom on in her daily swims inspired me to begin my own ocean swim journey. It was so special doing my first swim with her on Christmas Eve I loved the sense of community in the water and gathered on the beach after, socially distanced but still connected. The feeling of being in nature year-round also profoundly touches me. We live in a spectacular place and swimming has given me a sense of reclaiming the ocean for half the year we normally would never think of wading Into its crystal clear depths. Being on the beach, outside, rain or shine (or snow or hail!) is grounding. The cold water has really been a gift in so many ways. It is initially so overwhelming that it reduces everything to our most fundamental need – to breathe. The breath becomes the focus, just breathe. It’s so simple yet we rarely consciously do it hour to hour, minute to minute. Focusing on the breath is so freeing. It strips away all of the noise in your head, the busyness, the worry, our obsession with controlling the future and dwelling in the past. It makes you forget the weirdness happening in the world right now. For me, those 10 minutes in the water helps me see my life clearly. It energizes yet completely calms me (which if you love the nerdy, science-y stuff like me, is in part because it stimulates the Vagus nerve and also because it releases a flood of endorphins). One woman swims for the inflammation in her knees and has found this has helped relieve her pain. Another swims for longevity. I certainly swim for the immune-boosting benefits as well as the mental ones.
We now have our own thriving little community of ocean swimmers growing in Campbell River. My husband swims most days with me and our kids play on the beach. In January I started a Facebook group called Campbell River Wild Swimmers and we post each day when and where we will be swimming. On wild and windy days, we take refuge in the icy waters of McIvor Lake, but 99% of the time you’ll find us floating in the ocean. On our busy days, we can have as many as 6-8 people swimming with us. Some days it is just the two of us, or me solo. We have a friend who swims with us who brings music which really helps us get through our swim and on weekends he often brings coffee to share with the slightly numb but wildly alive little group. On beautiful days we will have a beach fire after to warm our toes and families will come set out their blankets on the beach and be apart but together. The sense of community and excitement for this growing little group is touching. Walkers will stop and cheer us on, maybe snap a photo and usually shake their head at how crazy we are. A few weeks ago a gentleman took a video of us swimming in the hail and asked for our number to send us the video. It is providing people with those small but vital social interactions we have been so missing this past year. People need that sense of connectedness. I believe our little group is providing that – whether it be a cheer from a walker or a regular getting into the water, hooting and hollering for those first few shocking moments, ultimately so proud of themselves for taking the plunge. Every day the words of the writer Glennon Doyle circle through my head – “we can do hard things” and I can hear the crazy Dutchman telling me to “just breathe”.