Lake Michigan

Woman Reveals Story Behind Viral Lake Michigan ‘Ice Lily Pad' Photo

Vaida Guthmann said she had been training for the moment and practices cold water immersion daily

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Images of Lake Michigan ice have been going viral on social media for days this winter, but one recent image is making waves not just for the ice floating in the water.

Vaida Guthmann shared a photo of herself immersed in the dangerously cold water, surrounded by an "ice lily pad formation," on Facebook.

The image shocked people almost as quickly as the cold water would, garnering hundreds of shares and just as many comments in one day.

But Guthmann later noted that she had been training for the moment and practices cold water immersion daily.

The Glencoe mother of three, who is originally from Lithuania, said she has "been practicing cold water immersion, almost daily, since January 2020, mostly in Lake Michigan."

Guthmann said the photo of her among the ice was taken at 10 a.m. Saturday.

"My friend and I met at the lake with hopes to get in. A lot of beaches were frozen over but then I saw 'ice water lilies' floating in the water far ahead," she told NBC Chicago. "I was so excited to find them because I was seeing them posted over social media throughout the week. I used a ski pole to measure water depth and to make sure that ice beds were movable. Safety first. We also decided not to go in together, but one at a time, thus my friend took pictures of me."

Guthmann said the weather was "perfect" for cold water swimming, noting the water temp read 30 degrees and air temp was 14 degrees.

"I usually stay immersed for three to five minutes, neck deep, but that day I stayed less to make sure I had strength to get out of (the) water," she said. "My friend gave me her hand and I had no problem getting out. I wore neoprene gloves to protect my hands from sharp ice and cold air."

Guthmann said she first got into cold weather swimming when she saw others doing it in Glencoe a few years ago.

"I was so impressed, I wanted to try it myself," she said, adding that she thought it would help with some aches and pains from her active lifestyle.

She started with daily cold showers, then ice baths and eventually transitioned to Lake Michigan.

Once the pandemic hit, she said she started to notice mental health benefits as well, as "cold immersion became a healthy outlet."

"It helps my mental health by calming my mind, slowing down thinking/anxiety," she said. "I have learned how to be comfortable when uncomfortable."

Still, both Guthmann and experts don't recommend others join in on the idea of cold water immersion right away.

The National Center for Cold Water Safety warned immersion in cold water could be "immediately life-threatening for anyone not wearing thermal protection like a wetsuit or drysuit."

"When cold water makes contact with your skin, cold shock causes an immediate loss of breathing control," the center's website says. "The result is a very high risk of suddenly drowning - even if the water is calm and you know how to swim."

According to the Outdoor Swimming Society, some who practice cold water immersion could also experience what's known as "after drop."

"'Afterdrop' is common after swimming in cold water; you get out and feel fine, and then you start to get colder, sometimes growing faint, shivering violently and feeling unwell," the society states.

The society recommends the following tips for anyone who does go into cold water:

  • To minimise the risk of afterdrop, dress immediately starting with the top half of your body. Put on a hat and gloves and have a warm (non-alcoholic) drink.
  • Dry yourself off ASAP – remove all wet layers
  • Don layers of warm clothing including a woolly hat and gloves. Silver foil blankets do not help swimmers – unlike runners, for example, swimmers are not radiating heat post swim, so there is no escaping heat for the silver foil blanket to trap.
  • Sip a warm drink: this helps warm the body gently from the inside.
  • Eat something: sugar will help raise body temperature.
  • Sit in a warm environment: in the absence of more salubrious spaces, cars, with heaters on full, are popular with channel swimmers.
  • If you feel okay, walk around to generate body heat. It can take some time to warm properly.
  • If you feel unwell at this stage, sit down somewhere warm.

Several groups and authorities in Chicago have also warned about walking on ice around Lake Michigan.

Since 2010, there have been 948 drownings reported in the Great Lakes, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. Experts urge the public not to walk out onto shelf ice, and to always use care when walking near bodies of water during the winter.

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