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  • Writer's pictureAnna Robertson

Wakefield Wild Waders stage weekly frigid river dips

Many of us know the bracing and exhilarating feeling of jumping into cold water — perhaps on a late summer day. Maybe you plunge in with a little gasp or scream, have a quick swim, and then scramble out to warm up in the sunshine on the dock.

For the fearless and hardy Wakefield Wild Waders, this is not at all what is happening. There is no warm dock or blazing sun awaiting them in December after they emerge from the icy waters of the Gatineau River.

Since the beginning of October, up to 20 residents at a time have been gathering on Saturday mornings at the Wakefield General Store, before collectively taking a chilly plunge into the Gatineau River from the nearby beach.

And these chilly swims are more than just a quick dip. Some of the waders lasted up to two minutes — down from the 10 minutes they were spending submerged in the frigid waters in October, says Wakefield resident and wader, Kelly Rea.

And surprisingly, while there is a little laughing and screaming going on, most of the

Waders disrobe to their bathing suits and chat casually about their days as they submerge their bodies in the frigid water, explains Rea.

Rea is a driving force behind the creation of the Wakefield Wild Waders group. She spent time in her native U.K. last fall, where she says dipping in the North Sea is a common practice up and down the coast.

She began immersing herself several times a week, loved it, and continued when she returned to Wakefield. Dipping grew to be a regular and treasured part of her routine, and prompted her partner, Jenny Stewart, to create the Wakefield Wild Wader Facebook group in October. The joy has spread and the group now has 150 members and counting, with both men and women.

The Saturday morning plunges are a regular event, but many Waders submerge themselves much more frequently. There is even a group of teachers from the Wakefield Elementary School, who walk down to the river and dunk themselves every day after work.

Why, you might ask, would you want to engage in such a goosebump raising activity?

While there are plenty of anecdotal accounts of health benefits, including positive effects on immunity and the nervous system, for Stewart, she says the biggest benefit of the cold-water plunges is the community of like-minded dippers she has connected with.

Friendships are forming among the members, and the shared “rather extreme experience” has a bonding quality, she explains. Waders also describe an almost addictive quality to the practice and say they feel a surge of adrenaline or dopamine after dipping, which makes them feel focused and energized.

“If you can do this, you can do anything!” says Stewart laughing. She says she is hooked and is already worrying about next summer and not being able to find water cold enough to continue the dipping practice.

“With cold water immersion the world shuts off for even a few minutes,” says Stewart. “You can’t actually think of anything else because everything is focused on your body. You are really, really in the moment,” she explains.

After submerging and a quick change into dry clothes, the dippers typically disperse and head off to get on with their day, but on Dec. 3, the blustery collective dip in 3 C water was followed by some hot tea and a warm-up gathering hosted by wader, Emily Carey. The gathering took place at her social wellness event space and tea room, Le Greenroom, opening soon on the second floor of the Black Sheep Inn.

Wrapped in cozy sweaters, toques, and plenty of layers, there was friendly chatter and some discussion about how far into the winter the dips will continue, with some waders planning to go all winter.

There have always been individual dippers in the Wakefield area but, “it’s much better with a group,” says Stewart. “It’s a really supportive environment.

Nobody’s judging you. Nobody cares how you look. Everyone is welcome!”

To participate in the plunges and learn more about the health benefits of cold-water immersion, join the Wakefield Wild Waders on Facebook.


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