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Ice swim racing is not for the faint of heart – literally

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Swimmers compete in some of the coldest water on Earth
02:07 - Source: CNN

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Winter swim race was started by the Society for Happy Friends of Cold and Darkness

Before the competition, there is poetry about the cold; after, there is reindeer meat

CNN  — 

Plunge into water at near-freezing temperatures, and your body goes into extreme distress. Your skin screams signals of pain. You can’t breathe, because your chest is cramping up. Talking is nearly impossible. Your heart is pounding. Fear mounts – as it should. Without any protection, you may lose consciousness in under 15 minutes. You’ll be dead within an hour.

Or … you can start racing! That’s the idea behind the Open Scandinavian Championship in Winter Swimming, which takes place every year in a 25-meter pool cut out of a frozen lake in a small Swedish town only about 100 miles from the Arctic Circle. Nearly 400 swimmers traveled there in February for the privilege and thrill of competing in this unique sport with as many health benefits as risks, it seems.

It’s the health benefits of the cold – both physical and emotional – that inspired this winter swimming race in the first place. Lars Westerlund, a founder and current organizer of the race, is also the chairman of the Society for Happy Friends of Cold and Darkness, dedicated to embracing the sub-zero temperatures and sub-sunshine days of the region. The Happy Friends want to give travelers reasons to venture that far north.

Theirs is a yin and yang understanding of darkness and cold. It’s actually the light of a region so dark in the winter that is amazing: the long blueish dawn of a three-hour day and the unique way light reflects off the snow. And it’s the health benefits of cold that are the attraction, particularly for winter swimming.