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10 March 2019 | in Winter Universiade

Siberian style – joining the locals for a frigid dip in the Yenisei River

As the snow trickles down over the ice-covered Yenisei River and the air temperature dips below minus 2 degrees Celsius, most people’s first reaction is to stay inside, get warm and maybe drink a hot cup of cocoa. Sensible.

 

However, contrary to logic, some people in Krasnoyarsk have made a tradition of going swimming in the Yenisei River, especially in winter when the water is freezing cold. In fact, there are six swimming clubs scattered around the Siberian city that cater to roughly 500 winter daredevils.

 

One such club is the Cryophile swimming club, which was founded 20 years ago. Club chairman Michail Petrovich explains that ‘cryo’ is ice and ‘phile’ is love and thus the name means the love of ice.

 

Located on the banks of the Yenisei, the club is home to 270 locals who regularly meet and get their fix of swimming in cold water. The water can get rather cold in winter and stays cold even in summer.

 

“In the winter, the [water] temperature is minus two and in the summer it’s plus 12,” Petrovich said. “The lowest temperature we swam in was minus 22 [in 2000], there was ice and we swam around it. We left part of our body here, it frozen.”

 

Swimming in such temperatures just seems cruel, let alone an enjoyable activity.

 

“Not everyone can understand that when we’re in the cold water our body warms up inside us and it’s better for our health," Petrovich explained. “If you go to the sauna and then swim, you will stand outside and you will feel how energy fills your body and how you’re becoming more healthy and warm.”

 

The chairman said they wrote a book called ‘warm from cold water’, which probably means that there is some logic to this irrational practice.

 

Local Peter Horoshecev is part of the Cryophile club and swims regularly in the freezing Yenisei. Having started swimming as a child, he said that “I do it because I want to be healthy.

 

“And I feel relaxed when I do it.”

 

Mr. Horoshecev said he has told all of his friends to join him and many of them are now part of the club too.

 
Krasnoyarsk boasts no less than five local clubs along the mighty Yenisei riverbanks, which cater to swimmers twelve months a year

After such glowing endorsements of swimming in a river which was registering a temperature below 0 degree Celsius, this journalist had no other option other than to try it out.

 

After spending 15 to 20 minutes in a sauna that felt like it was burning off your skin, we were ushered down a walkway past numerous Russian media outlets, then past the ice and finally to the shore of the Yenisei.

 

The TV cameras should have been the first red flag that we were about to do something stupid. Passing the ice should have been the second. And yet onwards we marched.

 

There was a pause at the shore as we took in what we were about to do

 

1... 2... 3...

 

I don’t really remember much after that, only that it was cold, ####ing cold.

 

As chairman Petrovich embraced me after, he asked whether I wanted to do it again, to which I responded maybe tomorrow.

 

That’s code for never.

 

By FISU International Young Reporter James Oana at the Krasnoyarsk 2019 Winter Universiade

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