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Ice-Swimming in Kouvola

I dare you to jump in the ice hole!

Friends Heidi Pakarinen and Mari Anttila challenged each other to take part in the Finnish Winter Swimming Championships.

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Two pink felt hats are bobbing in the ice hole in the lake by Tykkimäki Sauna. They are part of the team kit. Heidi Pakarinen and Mari Anttila are toughening themselves up in the black water for the Finnish Winter Swimming Championships.

At the event in Ähtäri, they are competing in the women’s 25 m breaststroke. The rules are that your head is not allowed to drop below the surface and your hands are not allowed to rise above the surface.

“We are aiming for a clean run without giving up. We don’t have a target time,” Pakarinen said.

“We’re doing this for fun,” Anttila agreed. “Just to make it to the finish line in one piece. We’re not taking it too seriously.”

The women climb up a heated ladder onto the jetty and rest in the sauna for a moment. They will do about ten rounds of swimming during the evening.

Pakarinen has being doing winter swimming for two years, Anttila for just one.

“I got to know Mari through our children’s shared hobby and I persuaded her to come along,” Pakarinen said.

The cool water of Käyrälampi

Anttila took to the new sport with gusto. She swam straight away; she didn’t just take a dip in the ice hole. The distance between the two jetties is 12 metres. When that’s covered, you’d be glad to go spend more time in the sauna together with a nice bunch of people.

A chat in that sauna led to the two friends daring each other to enter the winter swimming race.

Heidi goes to Tykkimäki Sauna 2–4 times a week in winter and Mari goes weekly. The best thing about it is that it makes you feel great and relaxed.

“After all, swimming in cold water is something really unique,” Anttila said.

880 swimmers in different divisions are taking part in the Finnish Winter Swimming Championships. One of them is Hanna-Maria Seppälä, who has retired from her career as a competitive swimmer.

Clothes off! Into the water! On your marks! When you hear the whistle, you can set off.

That’s how the race starts. Pakarinen guesses that being on the starting line will feel very different to practising at her “home sauna”.

Warm up in the sauna

“We aim to have a 25 metre track in future, too,” said Tykkimäki Sauna’s manager Viljami Taimisto. “The number of winter swimmers is growing all the time.”

Pakarinen and Anttila themselves suggested that they could represent Tykkimäki Sauna at the championships. Taimisto thinks it’s a great idea.

The friends will march in the championship parade in a two-person team, wearing their unique Tykkimäki Sauna felt hats. The championships are shown on TV in China, Japan and Italy; the exotic sport draws a big audience.

“Lake swimming in summer is an experience for international visitors in itself, never mind leaping into the water in winter,” said Taimisto. “Ice-hole swimming could give Finnish tourism a real edge.”

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