Julie Tester finds herself in Grandvalira Ski Resort in Andorra to cheer on her 18-year-old son who won the Freeride Junior Freeskiing Championships.
The swimmer from Truckee, California is a 10-time winner of the 250-yard Gar Woods Polar Bear Swim in Lake Tahoe, California, but she has been so busy with her children’s sports that she will not been able to race this year…leaving the race wide-open to others.
She discussed her decades-long participation in the 250-yard mid-winter swimming event that is part of the annual Lake Tahoe Snow Festival.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How many years have you participated in the Polar Bear Swim?
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Have you participated in other open water swims like the Trans Tahoe Relay or other events?
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you regularly swim as a form of exercise – and/or do you focus on other activities?
Julie Tester: I don’t swim much anymore. I like the Polar Bear swim because I have to train for it during winter, a time that outdoor activities are limited due to lack of sunlight. We have a nice new pool in our small community which makes it much easier to want to train. The old pool was dark and dreary. I tried to train at the other private pools in the area, using sometimes expensive guest passes.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: For the Polar Bear Swim, how do you acclimate to the sub-40°F water temperature?
Julie Tester: I know the race is short. The quicker that I finish it, the quicker I can dry off and warm up. Also, I have done it before and I can do it again. I don’t do any cold water training. I swim in the pool to regain swimming strength 1-2 months before the race.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What does it feel like to step into the cold lake water?
Julie Tester: The cold water hurts your ankles and feet. It also gives you an ice cream headache. There are also slippery and sharp rocks to be careful of. I have received cuts on my feet from the jagged rocks. I like to wait until the last possible second to go in. We start the race at knee deep. In the past, I have wrapped my feet in duct tape. This helped a little, but it was not worth the trouble of taking it off afterward. Same with Vaseline, it left a sticky residue.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you ever get nervous or scared?
Julie Tester: I get both nervous and scared. I have not been racing as much lately. I am finding it harder to get to the pool given that I am working fulltime and raising 2 teenagers. My boys are both competitive Big Mountain skiers and I have missed a few races due to their busy training and competition schedule.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How long does it take you to get back warm again?
Julie Tester: I have found that the best way to warm up after the race is to get into dry clothes as soon as possible and have a hot beverage or two. In recent years, a hot tub has been hauled in for swimmers to warm up in. That has been a nice addition. It is not too hot and is fun to chat with other racers after the event.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Why do you participate?
Julie Tester: My answer has changed over the 27 years that I have competed. Mostly, I like the competition and camaraderie of the race. I also like the excuse to ‘get fit’ during the short, cold and dark days of winter. Friends will ask if I am doing the Polar Bear Swim and I am reminded to start training. Unfortunately, this year I will be at a ski competition in Crystal Mountain, Washington this year so I won’t be able to participate. I’m a little relieved.
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