Back in 2012, we met two men – Greg Lane and Andre DeMar – who regularly swam in Lake Michigan, including during frigid Chicago winters.
We spoke with Andre DeMar on Tuesday to find out if he still swims in the frigid waters. It turns out he does. In fact, he swam in Lake Michigan this morning as the outside temperatures hovered around -2 degrees – without windchill. Read our interview below.
Do you still swim regularly at Promontory Point? How often? During the winter?
Yes. I took a few days off while it was frozen. Today, I was able to take a dip in for a little while and got out because there was some ice still on the lake.
What is the average water temperature in the winter?
I don’t know. I never knew the water temperature. As long as I can get in the water, it’s a good temperature. If the lake is covered in ice, I probably wouldn’t go in.
[In 2012, Greg Lane] mentioned conditioning as an integral part in the success of winter swimming. What is your usual regimen for prepping for these extreme conditions?
It’s not about time, distance or speed. Swimming in this weather is based on your feeling in the water and how you prepare for that. During the wintertime, you should always be safe. Although I like to swim every day, I will not go if it’s dangerous.
What do you need to do to prepare your body for the cold water?
I use to run to the lake and run home afterward. It didn’t work well. I prefer to have a bike from the lake. It also helps warm me after a swim. Overall, I do aerobics and exercise.
In the 2012 story, you wore neoprene caps, gloves and booties. Do you still wear that to swim? Why wear less clothing while swimming? Why not wear a bodysuit?
For me, only three major areas get cold first. My toes, fingers and head get cold when I’m in the water so I protect them. I’ve been doing this for 10 years so I try different things. I don’t wear wetsuits because they change the temperature of the body.
You said the water felt like little needles on your skin. How do you adapt to prolonged discomfort like this?
[The pain] doesn’t appear right away. When I feel it, I come back. People not used to it will start panicking. I stay calm and swim back. There is also a particular way of breathing when swimming. In cold water, the body works differently. So you have to be careful to control your breathing. I never go in the water if I’m not sure I can get out. I’m careful because no one can help me when I swim alone.
Have you noticed any complications from this experience?
Before I started using diving gloves, my arms got cold and I had pain and weakness in some fingers. I don’t understand how people go in unprepared. I don’t respect that sense of bravery. It may work once or twice but you better be careful.
Why do you swim in the lake?
The swim puts me in a good mood. I usually swim before I go to work so it puts me in a good mood for the rest of the day. I feel better swimming than I would after working out at the gym. I prefer the winter over the spring because the waves scare me more than the cold. There have been quite a few times the waves have thrown me around the water.
How do you adjust to the outside temperature after getting out of the cold water?
Most of the time, I deal with the wind. I try to put on everything fast enough so I’m not cold for too long. I only wear clothes with zippers. Your fingers might be too cold to do small movements. When I get home, I do aerobics and drink warm liquids or hot soup.
What advice would you give someone else trying to swim under similar conditions?
Use common sense. Never do it if you think you can’t get out of the water. Don’t do it to be “macho.” The most important thing is your recovery time. Check how long it takes you to recover after a swim. Swim for a short time at first; then go a little longer. Always think: what can you change in your routine? What works for me might not work well for someone else. We all are different.
How old are you and how long do you plan to continue swimming under these conditions?
I’m 52, and I’ve been asking myself this question lately. I don’t know. I cannot predict what changes will happen to my body.
Interview has been condensed and edited.