The thrill of the chill: Memphremagog Winter Swim Festival 2023

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Left: Slava Ukraine - Elaine Korbau Howley, Right: "Lifer." Kellie Latimer, completing the 200 Meter Free with power and joy. Both photo by Kathleene Marcil.

NEWPORT — The Ninth Annual Memphremagog Winter Swim Festival took place on February 24-26, on Lake Memphremagog.

The Festival was organized by Kingdom Games and hosted by the EastSide Restaurant & Pub.

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The festival attracted 155 winter swimmers from all over the United States and Canada, including the Dabulamanzi of Maryland, the Buckeye Bluetits from Ohio, the L Streeters from South Boston, and the Canadian “Onties”.

The event featured a variety of swimming events, including the 25-meter freestyle, 200-meter freestyle, and 25-meter breaststroke, as well as a hat competition and relays.

Despite bitterly cold air temperatures ranging from –5 F to 15 F all weekend long, the festival grew to be a major success.

The water temperature was 30.5 F.

Over 40 volunteers escorted swimmers to and from the pool and helped strip and dress them before and after their swims.

Friday morning saw the 25 Meter Freestyle, with 96 swimmers competing.

Winning among the men was Jeremy Whelchel, 39, of Brooklyn, NY with a time of 13.11.

Among the women, newcomer, Hannah Bradbury, 29 of Chicago, IL, burst on the scene with a speedy fast time of 15.25, setting a new pool record.

n the 200 Meter Freestyle, the longest swim of the festival, veteran Stephen Rouch, 42 of Kingston, PA won with his time of 2.33.69, as did Juliet Kadlecek, 57, of New York, NY, with her winning time among the women of 2.47.00, just a couple of seconds off her pool record which she set last year.

Saturday morning brought more bitter cold, which did not deter some 60 swimmers from strutting their stuff, their hats, and their joy in the 25-meter Hat Competition.

The smiles on their faces belied the bitter air and sub-freezing water they were swimming through.

The clear winner was Elaine Kornbau Howley, with her Ukrainian themed hat with a sweep of grain and sunflowers and more.

Winning the 50 Meter Freestyle among the men was Andrew Trout, 39, of Kensington, CA, with a time of 30.41 and Juliet Kadlecek with her time of 34.15.

Winning in the all-new transgender category was Chance Krampaski.

The festival also honored Gerry Fassett, who passed away from cancer.

Gerry was awarded the Bob Kraft Happy Hooker Award in 2020 and wore his sling throughout that year’s Festival while hooking the pool for two days.

This year’s Festival raised $2,006 for the Halo Foundation, a local organization that helps cancer patients and their families with unreimbursed expenses related to treatment.

Kingdom Games matched these donations dollar for dollar in Gerry’s honor.

The Festival is an annual gathering of winter swimmers who come together for the love of cold water and adventure.

The lure of the cold, the sense of adventure, and the camaraderie among this growing tribe were evident from the start and throughout the festival.

Participants swam not only for speed but also for the love of the sport and the sense of community it fosters.

The Festival is a homecoming of winter swimmers and has become an important event for the winter swimming community.

Next year’s Festival will be held on February 23, 24, and 25, 2024.

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