It must be the coolest world record. Rory Fitzgerald has just taken the title as the fastest person aged over 50 for ice swimming. He won the title while competing in Russia in a lake 0.8º C where he also became the British record holder.
Rory, who is the Responsible Finance Officer for Ringwood Town Council, has just returned from Murmansk where he represented the UK in the first world ice swimming championship. Plunging into icy water and swimming 1000 metres may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but Rory had trained hard for the championship, swimming in Snowdonia’s icy lakes, local rivers and even taking ‘ice baths’.
But even he had to admit that the reality of the frozen water came as a bit of a shock.
“The water was so cold that ice was forming on it as we swam. I was worried that I would not be able to stay in the water long enough to complete the distance.”
Admitting that along with the other competitors he gasped as he got into the water, he said: “I tried to find a good rhythm and my pace settled down, but I still had no confidence that I could complete the distance, let alone win the race. At 20 lengths, half way, my hands and feet had lost all feeling but otherwise I felt OK.”
Going into the last 50 metres Rory was neck and neck with a South African swimmer.
“The last length was a blur of foam and icy spray as I thrashed towards the finish. I slapped the end with numb hands, almost five seconds ahead of my rival.”
Having survived the swim – one competitor had to be rescued after getting into trouble – Rory then had to recover from the cold.
“I was helped from the water and rushed into an assessment tent where I was seen by a doctor. Once satisfied that I wasn’t in any imminent danger of collapse, he released me to paramedics who half carried me to the recovery suite” he explained.
“My hands and feet were placed in bowls of cool water whilst very hot, wet towels were wrapped around my shoulders, lower back and thighs. These were replaced every few seconds until I started to regain some feeling in my hands and feet. Recovery was rapid if a little painful. I was then ushered into a blissfully hot sauna.”
Rory’s time of 14 minutes 22.92 seconds placed him 4th man overall in the competition also earning the British record together with the World record for the 50+ age category.
Following the World Ice Championships, Rory stayed on in Murmansk to compete in the Russian Winter Swimming Championships where he secured gold medals in the 50m freestyle and 450m endurance even, along with a sprint bronze.
It is hoped that ice swimming might become an Olympic sport – another place where Rory could make a real splash.