By Phyl Newbeck, Contributor
Susan Blood is a long-time recreational swimmer, but, like most Vermonters, when October rolled around she would put away her bathing suit. That is no longer the case.
In January of 2019, her friend Julie Postlewaite posted on Front Porch Forum that she was still swimming in Lake Champlain and was looking for company
Blood headed to the lake with Postlewaite a few days later on Jan. 5, 2019, which just happened to be her birthday. They went into the water at Whiskey Bay and Blood was hooked. Postlewaite told her about the Winter Swimming Festival at Lake Memphremagog and she decided to give that a try.
“We prepared for that throughout the winter,” Blood said. “At one point the lake froze and we went in with axes.”
At Lake Memphremagog, Blood and Postlewaite competed in the 25-meter breaststroke.
“We were the two slowest swimmers,” Blood said.
They subsequently headed to Lake Bled in Slovenia for the Winter Swimming World Championships in February 2021. There were plenty of serious swimmers at the event, but in the afternoon there were also shorter swims that weren’t timed for those who were less competitive.
“It was a beautiful place,” Blood recalls. “It was a really fun trip.”
Blood owns South Meadow Ventures that runs two catalog websites in an office rented from Vermont Teddy Bear. With the help of her husband, Ted, and a team of eight women, the business manages Isabella, which sells products for “mature women” and Nova Natural Toys and Crafts. The job gives Blood sufficient flexibility to be able to swim in the morning with her friends throughout the year.
For Blood, one of the joys of swimming is the opportunity to spend time with those friends, a group that includes Postlewaite, Cecelia Wu and Tanna Kelton.
“For me there are two parts to the winter swimming,” Blood said. “There is the social part and seeing people regularly and also the lake part, because every single day it’s different. Today there were ice floes, but they might be gone tomorrow.”
In addition to her community of swimmers and her community at her home in Ten Stones, Blood has found a community with the Conservation Commission.
“Mel Huff somehow got my name,” Blood said “and she was very persistent.”
After a couple of years of service, Blood became the commission’s secretary.
“I don’t have a lot of extra time for projects,” she said “but this is one way I can help.”
Blood hopes others will take the opportunity to serve the town in any way they can. “Volunteering gives you the chance to meet people you might not otherwise meet,” she said. “There are some incredible people who volunteer.”
Blood credits her three friends for continuing to make the winter swimming expeditions fun.
“I’m probably the least consistent,” she said.
This winter has been tough because some of the days have been very cold and windy, but Blood relishes the time she spends with her friends in the water. They like to vary the places they swim to keep things interesting.
Although Blood has a wetsuit for recreational triathlons, she doesn’t use it for winter swims. Instead, she wears a regular bathing suit with sneakers and micro-spikes. “A wetsuit is more trouble than it’s worth for winter swimming,” she said. “You want to get in, spend as much time in the water as you’re comfortable, which is generally two to four minutes, and then get out.”
Once out of the water, the women lower their bathing suit straps and put on warm hoodies. They also bring thermoses of warm water which they use to warm their hands after the swims.
For Blood, part of the joy of winter swimming is the knowledge that she has done something hard, but there is also an endorphin rush. “You just feel happy,” she said. “It feels good to be in the water and trying to calm your breath. I try to get my face in the water a little bit because it’s supposed to be good for your mental health.”
Blood hopes others will join her swimming group. “We’re not exclusive,” she said. “We’re happy to have more people. It’s fun to try something you’ve never even considered and discover that you can do it.”