It’s Murmansk, Russia, and the April air temperature is below freezing. More pertinently, the water into which you are about to step is at freezing point – and you’re going to be spending the next 20 minutes or so swimming in nothing more than a bathing suit. You raise the flag of your native country above your head, and the crowd go wild. How do you feel?
“Absolutely terrified,” says Annette Daly, Careers Adviser at the University, and gold medallist for Zimbabwe at the 2015 World Ice Swimming Championship. “I thought to myself, ‘What on earth am I doing here? This is really going to hurt’. Just talking about it now is giving me butterflies.”
For Annette, it was the pinnacle of a remarkable adventure – one that saw her transported to the realms of superstardom for five days. Now, back on campus with her feet firmly on dry land, the story unfolds equal parts bravery, eccentricity…shivery.
“It all began when I became member of the Devon and Cornwall Wild Swimming group,” she says. “Through the club, I discovered a group of like-minded people who enjoy swimming in cold water. There’s something about swimming in really cold water – it’s the mental challenge for sure, but you also get this tremendous endorphin rush afterwards. I've always enjoyed it.”
Training at a quarry lake on Bodmin Moor, Annette completed her first ice mile in 2014, becoming the 74th person to achieve the feat. Despite enjoying the experience, a back injury took her out of the water for a number of months, and it was only when she applied to take part in the World Championships – and was accepted to represent Zimbabwe – that things really began to happen.
“I’d been off work and having physio on my back and the combination of the exercise and the cold water really helped me get back to work,” Annette says. “I did a couple of swims, including one at Lake Windermere, and began to regain my fitness. With ice swimming, it’s not something you can do on your own – you need a lot of support, like medical teams around you in case you get into difficulties.”