WHAT CAN YOU LEARN FROM A COLD CHALLENGE?
Is swimming in freezing water with your team, a crazy idea? Or perhaps a way to build team spirit?
“Best In Klass” team participated the traditional winter swim of Geneva, on the 18th of December 2022. We all made safely to the finishing line and swam 120 meters at water temperature of 7, degrees and air temperature of minus 2 degrees Celsius.
We all felt, racing in the “Coupe de Noel” made up our day, and for some, the whole year!
Most importantly, the cold challenge thought us a great deal.
WINNING AS A TEAM AND WINNING AS AN INDIVIDUAL
Winter swimming has existed since 1934, in Geneva. The tradition was freshly revived during the Covid19 epidemic. Many started to bathe to increase their resilience and so did we.
We started diving in the lake from September on. As water became unkinder our enthusiasm started to vane. We needed trigger.
The idea of racing came up. I challenged Damien that I would race If he decided to do it.
Damien is a smart guy, spirited and competitive of nature. After some thinking he decided to do it. With him, we formed the “lead stream”. Our zest was infectious and seeing our determination, more people joined the team smoothly.
Personal motivations of the people were different. Damien liked the spirit of the race. Yoko was trying to extend the limits of her physical endurance. Angela was there for the stamina. Kevin was building on health benefits. Stefano was going to step out of his comfort zone. Marco wanted to be stronger, and Pietro was enjoying the team experience. Pablo was interested in feeling “free”. Gabi desired to increase her mental resilience and me – being curious of nature – I was going to experiment the impact of cold on my psyche and body.
Lastly, but importantly, we were going to promote Klass Academy within Geneva.
We were different characters, with the professional swimmer Gabi who was caring, Pablo always bringing good mood, Pietro embracing the hardening challenge. Marco being steady, Stefano cautious, Kevin supporting the team in whatever he could, Yoko being our phantastic do-It-all person, Angela bringing emotions, Damien being the drive, and I a “Connector”.
Our character and personal motivations were different, yet we all trusted that succeeding with the race would enable us to achieve our personal objectives, as well.
OVERCOMING HARDSHIP NURTURES UNITY
Every week, we plunged into the Lake Geneva
As the weather grew harsher, the water temperature gradually decreased. In October, we swam in 16, and in November, in 12 degrees Celsius. Approaching Christmas, the water temperature dropped below 10 degrees Celsius, making it quite unbearable to even put your toes in!
Our responses to the cold were different.
Angela, Gabi, and Stefano needed 5-10 minutes to get into the water, but once they were in, they stayed another 5-10 minutes. Kevin, Pablo, and I preferred to get in as quickly as possible but rarely stayed in longer than 12 minutes. Damien was our star; he often stayed 15-20 minutes. Yoko, Pietro, and Marco bravely followed his lead.
We watched, encouraged, and learned from each other.
Some of us could tolerate stress of the cold more, than others. Gabi burst into tears early in December, but we gently pulled her into the dive. Once she got in, she was fine. Pablo did a lot of warm-up exercises and swam like a robot. Damien managed his pain by focusing on it, while I concentrated on my breathing. Stefano stopped swimming at 10 degrees Celsius, but we did not criticize him. He supported us from outside and tested our clear thinking with riddles, during the dives. Yoko and Angela stayed in the freezing cold, with blue lips, but smiling.
Angela documented our training, the harshening environment, and the progress we made with videos. Yoko set up a Whatsup group to share our sensations, research material and practical advice.
We kept going no matter the northern wind nor the cold rain, because the race was approaching and because the others did it, too.
We celebrated little successes and always had a good team breakfast to discuss next steps.
As time passed on, we felt safe with each other, gained courage from each other’s move, and enjoyed moving together.
Emerging into the challenge, accepting our differences, and voluntarily going through the hardship strengthened the bond between us.
SMART OBJETIVES DRIVE THE TEAM
Even though we all grasped the benefits of the cold challenge, setting a SMART target was essential.
Specific: We agreed to race on the “Coup de Noel” and dress in talar to promote continuous learning. We were wearing flashy red to bring joy in preparation to Christmas.
Measurable: Everyone was going to swim 120 meters, no matter how cold it was. Everyone was trying to reach the finishing line. We measured our progress weekly.
Attainable: We were going to increase our strength gradually. We were going to document water temperature, swimming time and cold symptoms, weekly.
Relevant: We were going to choose the name “Best In Klass” to promote Klass Academy’s notion that everyone can be best In class. We were going to reach a larger Geneva audience.
Time bound: We were going to do the winter swim on the 18th of December.
Setting smart objectives helped us to focus and prepare to the challenge.
ALL IS ABOUT TAKING CONTROLLED RISK
Swimming In a freezing water might sound a crazy idea.
We saw however its benefits. Cold challenge could improve circulation, boost the immune system, and increase mental resilience. Cold water swimming releases endorphins, which can improve mood and reduce stress.
We were also aware that swimming in freezing water can quickly lead to hypothermia, a condition where the body loses heat faster than it can produce it. We knew extreme cold can cause confusion, disorientation, and difficulties to make rational decisions, i.e., deciding to leave the water.
We experienced some of these symptoms as weather became colder. Our movements slowed. We were shivering for hours and could hardly think and speak, sometimes.
To manage the risk, we stuck together. We never swam alone. We limited the time in the water. In a water of 10 degrees Celsius we stayed for 10 minutes. We always had a ward, a supporter watching us, from outside.
In the aim for the benefits, we took controlled risks.
SUCCESS THROUGH THOUROUGH PREPARATION
We were swimmers of different levels, few turtles, several seals and one dolphin, a professional swimmer.
We trained every Saturday at 9 am. We swam the same length, 120 meters. Even the slowest made the effort, to keep up with the “seals”.
We made Saturday early morning swim to our habit. It was freezing cold or sunny, we kept going. Regularity helped us adapt to the harshening conditions.
We liked the song of Queens’: “We will rock you”. Our educational director Steve wrote us a rapping text for the music which helped us greatly with the breathing and boosted our stamina.
WHAT DOES NOT KILL YOU MAKES YOU STRONGER
When the day of the race arrived, we were ready. As we were heading to the starting stage, we felt excitement and perhaps a little fear. Yet we all knew, we were going to make it!
Hundreds of people watched the race, among those family, friends and “Best in Klass supporters”. The competing teams lined up. We quickly changed and were already at the launch pad.
The moderator cheered “Best in Klass”. and loudly played our fighting hymn. We were also signing with a full throat:
“Swimming in a cold lake when it’s freezing cold,
Knowing ain’t so easy and trying to be bold,
We will, we will rock you (ALL)
Together we’re one team, resistant to the last,
Yes, facing many hardships, yet we’ll have a blast
We will, we will rock you (ALL)
Christmas is a great time to show a bit of Klass,
No matter all the pressures, we’ll be “best in class »
We will, we will rock you (ALL)
Why not join us next year and have a lot of fun,
Learning, booming, shaping or whatever you want
We will, we will rock you (ALL)”
Then we jumped!
It was crippling cold.
But we did not care. Pablo rocketed. Damien and Pietro jumped with the “Best in Klass” flag. They have bravely held it up and we have followed them into the freezing water. We swam steadily. Stuck together. Smiled.
We knew we were going to overcome the pain; we knew we were able to make the 120 meters and we knew each of us was going to make it to the finishing line!
Klass Supporters were cheering: “We will we will hug you…”
We all made it in 7 minutes.
CELEBRATION FUELS DRIVE
The arrival was fantastic! What a pleasure it was to get out of the freezing water!
We celebrated joyfully, on that evening. We gathered for a warm Hungarian Gulash soup, French pancake, and Swiss wine, with family and friends.
We revived the moments of the preparation and the race itself watching the “Coup Noel’s” broadcast, the city filming the race, including us, from the 18th minute.
On the same day, Toastmasters International broadcasted our testimonial live, which you may listen on Youtube – starting at 35:45 minute.
We hailed we overcame our fears. We hailed we were strong. We hailed we did it together!
17 LESSONS FROM THE COLD
Succeeding in challenging conditions is not always easy!
Here is what the cold challenge thought us.
- What ultimately matters, is the team spirit.
- Harmony of team and individual objectives leads to winning.
- To embrace an objective, you need a critical mass.
- Enthusiasm is infectious.
- Building a team takes time.
- Diversity makes you stronger.
- Shared experience forms a winning team.
- Communication is key to create a bond.
- It Is fine to take controlled risks.
- Tracking SMART objectives enable you to progress.
- Prepare thoroughly.
- Fighting hymn can boost stamina.
- Don’t leave anyone behind.
- Once trained, just do it!
- Gain public support.
- Compete for yourself instead of competing against others.
- Celebration is the catalysts for future motivation.
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