Groups of people headed to Bowness Park on Sunday to immerse their bodies in ice water to improve their health.
“My body starts to crave the cold because I know the benefits and I know I’ll feel a lot better the next day,” said polar diver Roni-lil Shapka.
He recently began joining the group that meets weekly at Bowness Park to soak in the icy waters. It’s a shock to the body, but that’s the point.
“It’s really fun. I feel like I’m alive again, just the vitality. I find my mind is better focused. Mental clarity and more stamina,” Shapka said happily after getting out of the river.
The group says cold dips are a form of cold water therapy. Athletes often use ice baths after workouts to enhance recovery.
Bow River Polar divers say it is physically and mentally challenging to enter and stay inside for several minutes.
“Sometimes when I feel like I want to go out, I say, ‘Let’s take five breaths. Let’s try a little harder’ and when I go out, I feel phenomenal,” Junior Chica said.
He said the secret to getting in is not thinking about it.
“Because if you think about it, that’s what makes it hard,” Chica laughed.
To help prepare you mentally, there is an instructor in the park who teaches breathing exercises. The method involves breathing exercises and exposure to cold in the form of ice baths or very cold showers.
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Stuart Widmer says the short-term stress his body goes through helps him deal with stress out of the water.
“If you can submerge yourself in ice water, you can do a lot of things,” Widmer said.
You have to endure a painful half minute before people take the step.
“Usually it’s only 30 or 45 seconds that are difficult and then the body adjusts,” Widmer said.
He said there is a risk of hypothermia and that is why they only submerge for a few minutes and it is safe in increasing numbers.
“We start with a maximum of two minutes. People take care of each other. You are growing a community. “Everyone is like-minded and trying to do something good for themselves,” Widmer said.
But they don’t do it just for themselves. These cold water connoisseurs have a warm heart.
A group that dips in the Sheep River in Okotoks has a fundraiser called dips4dinner that donates to families in need.
On March 3, polar divers will return to Bowness Park to raise funds for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
Chica said it’s possible to take a cold bath at home, but the outdoor experience is more scenic and more social.
“Almost every week there’s someone new and everyone gets together and welcomes people and tells them what to expect and that’s how they’ll feel. It’s really cool to see everyone come together, 17-year-olds and 60-year-olds,” Chica said.
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