Sports: Open Water Swimming, Running, Mountain Hiking, Trail Running, Triathlon
Occupation: Assistant Director of Library Public Services at HACC
Location: Elizabethtown, PA
Louise is a highly accomplished swimmer and teacher who is a certified US Masters Level 3 coach and Adult Instructor and American Red Cross certified WSI Water Safety Instructor. A swimming friend told me about one of Louise's open water swimming clinics at Blue Marsh Lake, northwest of Reading in Pennsylvania, which was where I first met Louise. Her love for swimming and her swimmers was palpable! Even as an experienced pool swimmer, I learned much from her advice and instruction on open water swimming during the clinic. I followed her on facebook and it has been a pleasure seeing her expand and enjoy her swimming career and swim coaching business.
Read an excerpt from an interview with Louise in her own words about her journey to becoming an athlete and coach and continue reading below for more on her open water and ice swimming experiences.
What is your most vivid memory of your sports career?
That’s the killer question. I’ve had so many. I don’t know that I can say just one. The vivid memories pop into your head when you need them. Like, I’ve had failures that I haven’t completed a run or a swim, but coming around the Statue of Liberty for the very first time – that was unbelievable. Getting out of that water and having swum around the statue, that’s where the little seed of the English Channel was planted. I was one of these kids who liked reading, I still like reading, adventure books and nonfiction, and I love reading about the Everest climbers and what that must feel like. And I got out of this swim and was like, maybe I can swim the English Channel! That’s where that seed came from. That was an amazing feeling.
I just swam this past July, did the North Channel and absolutely it’s just unbelievable. The North Channel is cold and it’s between Ireland and Scotland and it has jellyfish which scares the pants off everybody, and rightfully so. I’d swim over these huge jellyfish and to me they were just so beautiful. I still remember that. The water is so clear and beautiful.
And climbing Mt. Fuji for the first time. That’s not even swimming, that’s climbing Mt. Fuji and when you’re on Mt. Fuji and the sun comes up, everyone stops and you turn to face the rising sun and here’s this mountain that’s filled with tourists that are climbing Mt. Fuji from every country in the world and everyone stops at the same time and sits down on this mountainside and watches the sunrise. Unbelievable feeling. It’s communal, everyone stops and does the same thing, takes a breath, and watches the sun rise.
What are your sports goals and/or what do you foresee happening with your sporting career in the future?
I’ve kind of stepped back a little bit. I have little goals. This whole pandemic has put so many goals… yeah. There’s a little bit of an opportunity in August I don’t know if I’ve said yes to yet. Next July 2021, I’m going back to Cork. I love swimming the Irish waters and we have a relay together for Loch Ness. I’ve done all of the triple crown swims as a relay. My big goal was to swim the English Channel solo, but I did not finish it. I got 6 hours in and there were a lot of different reasons why I didn’t finish it. And I thought do I want to go back and finish it? I love the English Channel. It’s an absolutely amazing swim. So I think that’s still in the back of my head to do it again, but it’s the timing and it’s money and you can’t really do it when there’s a pandemic. Right now I’ve been having so much fun with coaching.
I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been able to continue to swim. The lake that I swim in has stayed open, and we’ve been practicing the social distancing and I swim year round, so that’s nice, the cold water doesn’t bother me at all. I’m going to continue to with the ice swimming. I’d like to go to either the ice championships in Poland or Siberia because I found I really like the ice swimming. I never thought I would have. Again, it’s the community. The people are phenomenal. It’s a little challenging for us in the United States because we don’t have as much of a history related to that. Over in London they have things like lidos so they can swim outdoors which is really, really cold and have regulation lanes and also you’ll see it on the continent, like Poland and Siberia. They can cut and have pools that are regulation size to have those championships.
In North America, there is no set up like that. We don’t have outdoor pools that run year-round in cold, cold weather. Now, what we do in Vermont, if you’ve ever seen the Vermont swims that I go to, that’s up in Newport, Vermont. I’ve gone five years now. And because the lake is so far north, it’s right up there on the Canadian border, it typically always freezes over and they can cut a regulation 25 meter pool into the ice in the lake. And that’s how we have those events in Vermont. You’re actually in two lanes in this 30-degree water. We get people from all over. I had a friend who said, you’ve been training for the English Chanel, you’ve been swimming in colder and colder water, maybe you’d like to try ice swimming. And I thought I don’t know what that’s like but sure, what the heck? That’s how I got into it. And I love it. I love the physical. I love the emotional. For me, like my thing is anxiety, I have anxiety issues. I can get really anxious sometimes. My anxiety is so much lower than it ever has been because I can go swim in cold water and it’s just…it make you feel so great.
Does it make you feel like you’re right in the moment?
Precisely. Yes. You know when they try to teach you mindfulness? And for someone who’s highly anxious, trying to focus on one thing for more than…your mind is darting and darting. That’s it. Because when you’re getting into ice water, you have to be so incredibly mentally focused because no one wants to get into water that’s 30 degrees. Your body will send you instinctively, that old part of the brain, that ancient, ancient brain that sits on the back of the brain stem. As soon as you get into cold water, it starts sending these signals, “Get out! Get out! Get out!” and your pulse becomes rapid, you can’t breathe, but you’re on instinctive, automatic reflexes. You have to tell your brain to slow down and really be mindful. It’s such a good practice for me, and a lot of people report that’s one of the huge benefits for that. It’s true for any cold water, it doesn’t have to be 30 degrees. Even if you’re getting into 60 degrees it’s that same mindfulness that you have to practice, that deep breathing, that focus.
What are three words you’d use to describe your athletic body?
Strong, beautiful, confident.
Questions for Louise about her sports or coaching career? Please comment below!
If you're interested in having a swimming coach, check out Louise Darlington's Coaching Page.