You take a little boxing, throw in some bullriding, blend it with the hard knocks of life, and stir it all into the coldest water you can find. How does Dragon Lake sound? In winter?
A set of Quesnel athletes are using the frigid waters to steel their nerves, ignite their minds and heal whatever ails them, and that applies to the inner mental strains of life as much as the aches and pains of their demanding physical sports.
“Getting in that water is not a natural feeling. You don’t want to do it,” said Eric O’Flynn, one of the ringleaders of this unusual bath they are taking on a regular basis. “But you’ve got to push your brain to do it, it’s mental to take that step, and then what you get from the water is health benefits. It’s for healing, for strained muscles, for anxiety and depression, for full body recovery. I don’t see why everybody doesn’t do it, honestly, with how beneficial it is and how easy it is.”
O’Flynn is a bullrider who rode on the Bull Riders Canada semi-pro circuit this past year. He and his buddy Clay Gordon finished high in the rankings. They are taking aim at qualifying for the pro circuit, this coming year, and they want to be ready for whatever those spinning beasts can stomp at them. Going to the gym just isn’t enough, they decided, and heeded the example of O’Flynn’s older brother Matt. Their mentor got them onto the bulls in the first place, and also got them to break the ice on the lake. Matt has taken a keen interest in the body-mind therapeutic theories of Wim Hof, a leader in the movement for better health and mental states by sinking your body and problems into cold water and hanging out awhile.
O’Flynn’s record was 14 minutes, with new attempts happening almost every other day. Gordon went for 20 minutes. Matt’s personal best was 30 minutes. So far. Following the teachings of Wim Hof, those totals are bound to increase.
“It’s like the runner’s high. You’re energized, your endorphins are through the roof, and you just feel good. I love it,” said O’Flynn. “When I’m driving to the lake, I’m going with my buddies. I’m trying to be a professional athlete, professional bullrider, so when I’m headed there with them I’m thinking ‘you’re a badass, no one else but us can do this, anything to get better.’ And then you just jump in with your buddies cheering you on, and it’s just like bullriding in that sense, everyone pushing you to be your best.”
That network of support is what prompted sister Melissa to join them. Her sport is boxing. Between parenting, working, and training, she felt her psychological fuel getting low as well as the aches and pains of an active life. She knew her brothers and their friends were involved in the ice dunking. So was one of her boxing coaches, Chase Tuftin, who modified a freezer on his deck to get filled with ice cubes and water - the opposite of a hottub.
Melissa eased into it with cold-water showers each morning, then worked up to dunks in the tub with fellow Quesnel boxer Robyn Grant. She could already sense an improvement.
“I had so much more energy, less pain in my joints, I’m able to move better, and I even notice I can play better with my kids,” she said. “So then I messaged my brother, and said, I want to do this. I want in on this.”
A group of them went out onto Dragon Lake where Eric and Clay already had a regular hole through the two-foot surface ice. They had to chop out the scum layer that had frozen over since their last visit. It was cold reality setting in, but none of them cooled to the plan.
“I go first. I do the breathing exercises. My face is tingling,” Melissa remembered. She spotted the key difference between the coach’s ice chest and this all natural experience. There was no cozy home only a few feet away. At Dragon Lake it was a case of “you get out of the water and you’re in the outside environment, running through snow in my bare feet, in my swimming suit, to get to the truck to warm myself up after being in the water for three and a half minutes.”
Yup. Three and a half minutes on the first try. Eric just kept talking to her, taking her mind off the passage of time when it felt like a glacier’s pace between the ticks on the clock. She could feel the nearly frozen mud of the lakebottom between her nearly frozen toes, at least for awhile. The numbness eventually set in. She just kept telling herself that she was safe, her brothers had done it much longer than this, so she was fine. “You’re totally talking yourself through it.”
Melissa thought of her longtime boxing coach, Wally Doern, and how he started her on a path of focusing on quick, efficient, thoughts and movements to get the results you want.
Eric thought of his bullriding family and all the broken bones and bruised tissue of their bodies, straining to live life to the fullest.
They both thought of the people surrounding them out on the frozen lake, and how those people were also surrounding them with their support no matter where they went.
They advised to always have people there with you for safety, and how that was a metaphor for life itself: don’t do it alone, be there for others, and strive for health. The coldest of water can bring the warmest of comfort.