Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

There may not be a more unselfish man in the open water swimming world than Henri Kaarma.

As one of the the most accomplished – and certainly the fastest – ice swimmers in history, the Estonian was voted by the public as the 2014 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year.

Kaarma deserves the honor as he humbly embodies the spirit of open water swimming, possesses the sense of adventure, tenacity and perseverance that open water swimmers are known for, and has very positively influenced the world of open water swimming during 2014.

He looks normal swimming in water just above freezing, but his mental strength and physical hardiness are anything but normal. The reality of the situation is nearly unfathomable. He set the record for swimming 2,400 meters (1.49 miles) in 0.8ºC water in 41 minutes 57.09 seconds at the Tyumen Open Water Swimming Cup in Tyumen, Russia.

Extraordinary is only the beginning of adjectives that describe the world’s most foremost ice swimmer and 2014 WOWSA Award winner.

I train mostly in the pool and 2-3 times per week in cold water, too. But I do longer swims in cold water only once per 1 or 2 weeks. I have been swimming in cold water for 6 years. But I did the first 1 km cold swim in 3 years ago. It was close to my limit then. My cold tolerance has definitely improved since then. My body ‘remembers’ previous swims and can do more next time.”

He explains how he continues to expand into the extremes. “In the start, I was trying not to go too fast and to stay calm despite initial feeling of cold. During the distance, I just tried to do a controlled swim, to be as economical as possible. I looked ahead after 20 strokes to check how far is the wall and which hand will touch the wall. Also, I remember overtaking Tlamicha Zdeněk by 50 meters for every 250 meters. Closer to the end, I noticed my stroke was getting shorter and it was hard to keep track how much have I already swum. I saw a bunch of people walking with me from one end to another and heard cheering during turns so I concluded that the distance must be pretty solid. I remember someone grabbing my hand, but I thought that it’s too early for stopping and I can swim more. 50 meters later, I thought that will do for today, climbed up the ladder and men carried me to the sauna.”

Kaarma is a living laboratory, a medical marvel, and an inspirational ambassador of ice swimming. By swimming further than any human in history in ice water under unimaginable hostile conditions, Kaarma has extended our understanding of how far the human body can be pushed. His steely mind and his willingness to help support safe ice swimming are incredible assets, but his unheard-of speed in ice water (nearly 1 minute in 100 meters without flip turns) are indicative of his unprecedented physiological capabilities. Kaarma is shattering what the medical and scientific communities – and fellow athletes – think possible.

He travels to Russia, Latvia, Finland, Great Britain and Argentina to demonstrate his talents and to continue to reach his true potential. He also helps others modify their mindsets and explore for themselves what is physiologically and psychologically possible. For his ambassadorial activities in the realm of ice swimming, for his friendly and appreciative demeanor in ice swimming competitions, for his leadership in showing what is possible, Henri Kaarma of Estonia is a worthy recipient of the 2014 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year Award.

Kaarma’s fellow 2014 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year nominees include:

1. Adam Walker (Great Britain), Oceans Seven Swimmer
2. Allan Lopes Mamédio do Carmo (Brazil), FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup Champion
3. Colin Hill (Great Britain), Race Director & Open Water Ambassador
4. Ferry Weertman (Netherlands), 2-time European Champion
5. Henri Kaarma (Estonia), Ice Swimmer & Cold Water Ambassador
6. Joanes Hedel (France), FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix Champion
7. Joseph Locke (U.S.A.), Farallons Freestyler
8. Lewis Pugh, OIG (Great Britain), Ocean Advocate
9. Otto Thaning, M.D. (South Africa), Oldest English Channel Swimmer
10. Phil White (U.S.A.), Outstanding Organizer
11. Tomi Stefanovski (Macedonia), Traversée Internationale du lac St-Jean Co-Champion
12. Xavier Desharnais (Canada), Traversée Internationale du lac St-Jean Co-Champion

The World Open Water Swimming Men of the Year include:

* 2008 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year: Randy Nutt of the USA
* 2009 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year: Petar Stoychev of Bulgaria
* 2010 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year: Marcos Díaz of the Dominican Republic
* 2011 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year: Jamie Patrick of the USA
* 2012 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year: Stephen Redmond of Ireland
* 2013 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year: Pádraig Mallon (Ireland)
* 2014 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year: Henri Kaarma

Footnote: The 2014 WOWSA Award winners are as follows:

* 2014 World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year: Dr. Nataliya Fatyanova (Russia)
* 2014 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year: Henri Kaarma (Estonia)
* 2014 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year: Diomede Islands Swim by Alexandr Brylin and Grigorii Prokopchuk (Russia)
* 2014 World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year: Step Out Of The Ordinary Blue Letter Campaign by Pádraig Mallon and Camlough Lake Water Festival (Ireland)

Photos of Henri Kaarma are courtesy of Nuala Moore.

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association