The Tribe Gathers and Grows in 2023

LAKE MEMPHREMAGG -NEWPORT, VT - They came. They swam. They howled. They ROARED at the Ninth Annual Memphremagog Winter Swim Festival, on February 24, 25, and 26, 2023. The Festival was organized by Kingdom Games and hosted by the EastSide Restaurant & Pub. The pool was cut by Michael Booth and the Boyz of Winter. 

The gathering grew this year to 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, the Medford Merfolk also from Massachusetts, the Canadian “Onties”, the Cold Tits Warm Hearts from Maine, the Coney Island Polar Bears from New York, The Penn Herons of Pennsylvania, 5 Californians, a growing group of Virginians, the Quebecsters, our local Shark Bait Sheilas and other Vermonters, along with a host of others from Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Georgia, Illinois Minnesota, New Jersey, and the State of Washington.  Here's the link to the Final MWSF 2023 Roster

They swam everything from 25 meters to 200 meters in the only competitive 25-meter, two lane pool cut in the ice in all of the Americas. Water temperature was 30.5 F (think microscopic slushy). Air temperatures were bitterly cold ranging from –5 F to 15 F all weekend long.  Wind speeds varied from negligible to 10 MPH. 

Over 40 volunteers escorted swimmers to and from the pool, helped strip and dress them before and after their swims, walked each side of the pool with pool hooks at the ready to pull any swimmer in distress, started each race, timed the results, and helped warm the swimmers after their swim in the Marina Building before returning them to the EastSide Restaurant and Pub, and entered the times for each event. Michael Booth, leading his three-person team, Boyz of Winter, cut the pool and dropped and fixed the platforms. Rick Born led a bunch of swimmers and volunteers setting up the flagpoles and flags at the west end of the pool.

Barbara Malloy, Vermont’s First Lady Dracontologist and chronicler of over 150 sightings of our lake creature, Memphre, cut the ribbon to officially open the pool, followed by a two potato gun salute fired by the Boyz, and a ceremonial swim by the local Shark Bait Sheilas, Charlotte Brynn, Julie Zeitlinger, Pam Ladds, and Nancy Reige. This year’s Festival honored Gerry Fassett of Levis, Quebec who was awarded the Bob Kraft Happy Hooker Award in 2020, which he received wearing his sling which he wore throughout that year’s Festival while hooking the pool for two days. Gerry died of cancer this past year and we miss him dearly. After the pool was “officially” opened. warm up followed at Jaspers and then dinner around town.

This year the Festival was expanded from two days to three days of swimming. 

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, for his speed he received a ¼ pound of Brault’s Beef Jerky and a quart of Couture’s Maple Syrup. 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.

Here's the link to all times of all swimmers at all events, MWSF 2023 Times and the link to Updated MWSF Pool Records

In the 200 Meter Freestyle, the longest swim of the Festival, veteran Stephen Rouch, 42 of Kingston, PA won a pound of Brault’s beef Jerky 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.

Hooker Don Houghton, Jr. Walking the Walk - Photo by Kathleene Marcil

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. This year it was a Winner Take All, a pound of Brault’s and a Gallon of Couture’s. There were some wonderful entries, but the clear winner was Elaine Kornbau Howley, with her Ukrainian themed hat with a sweep of grain and sunflowers and more. Majestic, poignant in this time of war, and stunningly beautiful.

Slava Ukraine - Elaine Korbau Howley - Photo by Kathleene Marcil

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, who took home his share of beef jerky and maple syrup to a hearty round of applause when he rose to claim his prizes. 

After lunch the Tribe gathered near the pool for their group photo and walked single file by the pool side to drop their ribbons one by one. This year’s Ribbon Ceremony honored our friend, Gerry Fassett. Each person who wanted to participate donated $10 for a ribbon, wrote the name of a family member, friend, or acquaintance who has battled cancer, successfully or not. We raised $1,003 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. Total raised for Halo was $2,006

The final swim of the day was the 25 Meter Breast Stroke, which was won by two Mainers, Bulcsu Lengel, 42, of Falmouth, ME with a time of 16.20 and Mariah Reading, 28, of Bangor, ME with a time of 20.30

Sunday’s events included the 25 Meter Butterfly, the 100 Meter Freestyle, and the 4 x 25 and 4 x 50 Relays. Winning the 25 Fly were Jeremy Whelchel, 39, of Brooklyn, NY (14.79) and Hannah Bradbury (15.88). In the 100 Meter Free, Stephen Rouch , 42, of Kingston, PA, maintained his dominance in this event with a time 1.09.52 (missing his record by just under 3 seconds). Hannah Bradbury continued her winning ways with a time of 1.11.77 setting another new female pool record for this event.  

And then all hell broke loose with the 4 X 25 and 4 x 50 Relays. The 4 x 25 was won by The Coasters a team of Rhode Islanders (Lorena Pugh and Christopher Sowa) and Mainers (Kelsey Engstrom and Kaitlin Hopkins)(1.22.14) The 4 x 50 saw the return of the Big City Rivalry between New York, Yorkshire I (Juliet Kadlecek, Ed Gabriels, Diego Voglino and Jeremy Whelchel), and Boston, The Boston Bombers (Ted Hirsch, Richard Born, Martha Wood and “ringer Thomas Hale filling in for Christopher Graefe). It appeared that Boston won the event by 1 second with a time of 2.28.24. They were presented with some beef jerky and maple syrup, and jars of Barr Hill Honey, along with their 1st place woodals. 

But after the awards were all passed out and the glory was savored for a few short hours, the New Yorkers threw down a red flag, challenging the results. So New York! Upon further review of the original pool side entries, we discovered that while transposing the data into the excel spreadsheets, I had entered a “9” instead of a ”0” and New York’s time was actually 2.20.24 moving them up to first place AND setting another new pool record. At our Award Ceremony next year we will be sure to allow New York to present Boston with their Second Place 2023 Woodals. 

Best part of the Relays was the hooting and hollering by so many at poolside rooting each other on. Could hear it across the lake and back.

Of course, speed had little to do with why so many swam. The lure of the cold. The sense of adventure. The camaraderie among this growing Tribe was evident from the start and throughout the Festival. One of the many touching moments was when Amy Craigen, of Salem, MA, returning for the first time following a swim related injury, was able to finish the 100 Meter Free Style with Nadine Bennet of New Brunswick as her swim partner (also recovering from an injury) They finished together and embraced each other before they exited the pool. Can’t begin to say how great it is to see both of them swimming strong together. 

One other moment that was all about speed, was the battle between sisters, Vera and Margaret Rivard, head-to-head in the 200 Meter Free with a photo finish. A dead tie.

Saturday’s Award Ceremony and scrumptious Swimmers, Volunteers, and Roadies Buffet Dinner was preceded by the Annual Barr Hill Vodka Shooter and Jammie Party. Barr Hill was all over the deck with free samples of their land crafted Vodka, Gin, and Tom Cat Gin. The EastSide Bar served a variety of cocktails, specially created for the Festival, including BrynnGin, and The Ice Breaker. All included KIS Kombucha a wonderful addition to the Kingdom Games family. Great to see so many joyful, rambunctious swimmers in their jammies.

As with any Festival we are beginning to draw vendors from within the Tribe and from without. Team Rivard was back selling knit caps to help fund Margaret Rivard’s expenses at her upcoming English Channel attempt this coming summer. Mary Stella and Stephen Rouch were busy throughout the festival selling their hand made bars of soap some marked with a TC for our battle cry, TOTALLY COLD, and some with Yellow and Blue for Ukraine. They also gave some bars to our hard charging volunteers. Totally New to the Totally Cold Festival were cans of non-alcoholic beer, provided by the Athletic Brewing Company and its two Ambassadors, Julie Zeitlinger of Sutton, QC and Leslie Hamilton, of NYC.

The Festival is an annual “home coming” of winter swimmers. Every such Festival has to have a King and a Queen. We select our Festival’s two Ice Sluts each year. They represent the lust and hunger for cold water that drives the entire Tribe. This year Dabulamanzi, Chuck Flayart, was selected King Ice Slut of the Festival.  Chuck has tattooed his back with the Memphremagog Winter Swimming Society’s logo, as well as a logo of the Dabulamanzi. A suitable King Ice Slut for 2023. We hope he will inspire others to follow his lead. Queen Ice Slut in 2023 had to go to Charlotte Brynn for her extraordinary year of cold water swimming, including a trip to the International Ice Swimming World Championships in Samones, France, where she won gold for her age group in three events and set two age group world records. Charlotte’s unbridled lust for cold water is obvious every time she flips off her moon boots. Chuck and Charlotte, were presented with two crowns created by Team Rivard specially for this occasion. The Festival is well represented by this year’s Ice Sluts.

We took the opportunity to recognize our "Lifers" those who have swum at every single Winter Swim Festival since we started in 2015. Kellie Latimer, Rick Born, Robbie Bailey, and Robert Bailey.

"Lifer." Kellie Latimer, completing the 200 Meter Free with power and joy. Photo by Kathleene Marcil

Rena Demeo, Co-Chair of the US Ice Swimming Association handed out IISA patches to 5 North American swimmers who completed an ice mile this year: Vera Rivard, Natalie Lang, Elaine Kornbau Howley,  JB Lanza, and Ontarian Tom Heiderdahl.

We welcomed 72 "Virgins" to the Festival, all of whom received the Memphremagog Winter Swimming Society patch. In addition to our first transgender participant, we also opened an "Assisted Division" for the first time, with Rena Demeo swimming with a snorkle.

Each year we honor another scalliwag amongst us. They are the mischievous rascals who lead others astray into our low society. People like Janet Kylander Manning (Dabulamanzi), Louise Hyder-Darlington (Penn Herons), Puranjot Kaur (Cold Tits Warm Hearts) and Margie Gadzik (Buckeye Bluetits). There are now clans of cold water swimmers growing up in locations all over North America thanks to scalliwags like them. One of the faster growing clans is the Virginians. This year’s Scalliwag Award went to Andie Nelson of Arlington, Virginia. She represents the kind of joyful trouble that is irresistible. Just ask her son Miles and his buddy Tobias who served as the Festival’s first ever Shit Burners, stoking the fire pits (provided by Newport Parks and Recreation) out on the ice and then filled the newly tagged title of Pimps, holding the ropes on our Hookers as they walked the pool. Margie and Puranjot presented Andie with a set of Ice Tongs.

One of last year's Ice Sluts, Josef Polcz of Barrie ON swimming with Scalliwag of the Year,

Andie Nelson of Alexandria, VA in the Hat Competition - Photo by Kathleene Marcil

Walking back and forth poolside with hook in hand for every swimmer in every event throughout the Festival can be COLD WORK. This year, the Bob Kraft Happy Hooker Award went to Cap’n Rob Andersen who has been a Hooker each year since 2016 when we started the poolside march for safety reasons. He received a walking stick, hand carved by our local, retired but still beloved, OBGyn physician Bill Peck. Rob also pilots boats for our summer swims, including the 25-mile length of Lake Memphremagog, In Search of Memphre. 

Speaking of COLD WORK, we also recognized Chuck and Pat Goulding who timed each and every swim to the 100ths of a second. They sat out in the frickin’ cold throughout the three days. We gave them a third timer to spell them next year, triathlete and swim coach, Carol Pearl. To Carol, a hearty welcome to our Low Society.

For the past several years we have also given out a “Good Shit” Award. Cutting through all the chaos of life, it becomes clearer. There are “good shits” and then there’s everybody else. Good Shits aren’t perfect by any means, but if they say they have your back, they have your back and you can count on them. If they don’t have your back, they will tell you to your face. This year and hereafter, we are naming the Good Shit Award after Gerry Fassett. We are proud to present the 2023 Gerry Fassett Good Shit Award to Liz Fry, an abiding friend. a strong, quiet presence in our community and in whatever she does, and a mentor to many. Not only has she been a Skimmer and Gunner for many years at the Festival, she was the first to complete In Search of Memphre, the year we opened it in 2011. The conditions were “feisty” and 6 did not finish that first year. Liz returned the next year to help make sure that those with unfinished business completed their Search. She’s just that type of Good Shit. She will receive a Barr Hill zippie hoody to sport on the Long Island Sound.

Kathleen Marcil served as the Festival's official paparazza. Her photos, along with those of others at the Festival, are included in two shared google albums. Winter Swim 2023 Photos and MWSF 2023 Photos.

Living in the Hard North, We Like Memphremagog Ice and we LOVE the Jay Peak Cloud which produces some of the best skiing in the East and many say the best glade skiing in North America. The folks at Jay have been trusty sponsors of The Games since the very beginning. It was great to see 19 winter swimmers grab some specially discounted ski tickets for the Stay Play Jay Day on Monday after the swimming was done. Loved running into some of them out on the slopes, in the Tramside Lodge, and at the fire pit for some brown bag drinks in the afternoon. 

Best Damn Pool Party in All of the Americas. Why the likes of Suzie Dods travels all the way from San Francisco to swim the 25 meter freestyle and lead the warming of swimmers in the Marina Building for three days. As she says, “I love my 24 Hour Relay and I love my Greece trips but DAAAYUM.. this sh!t is FUN!”  Sharon Purdy, of Toronto, once said, “Quite possibly the happiest place on the planet for those two days!!”

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