For open water swimmers, even chilly, choppy water beckons

By Katherine Roth, Associated Press.

Many beaches won’t open for weeks, but already one dedicated group is quietly pacing the shore.

You might not have noticed them, but these quiet few are the ones who seem most keen on noting the shifting tides, the current, the wind. They’ll gush about the color of the water, the angle of the sun, the shape of the clouds. They are the first to plunge in when those on the shore are still shivering in sweaters. And they are the last to, very reluctantly, call it a season in late fall. And occasionally not even then.

“A lot of us look longingly at the water all year long, but it’s still a little cold for me now,” says Dorothy Harza, 93, of Evanston, Illinois, who swims nearly daily in Lake Michigan from May to November.

“It makes my body feel so good!” she exclaims. “Like most people my age, I have various aches and pains that one just lives with at my point of life. Swimming makes me feel so much better.”

Her passion for open water swimming is about much more than physical exercise.

“It’s so beautiful when you’re swimming in the lake. The sky is different every day. The water is different every day. And then there’s the camaraderie of it,” she says.

“Some people think it’s just too cold to swim, but it’s not cold at all once you’re in the water.”

Unlike many athletic endeavors, open water swimming is a pastime embraced by many in their 50s and up, way up. It favors the hardy, the persistent, the well-insulated. It doesn’t matter much how old you are. And it’s nothing like pool swimming.