Too cold? Not for Whidbey’s swimmers

Three of the bold year-round swimmers catch up before taking a plunge in front of Seawall Park in Langley. The ladies are often the ones who rally the troops in less forgiving conditions. From left to right: Megan Scudder

The Whidbey Open Water Swimmers are a bold bunch. Rain or shine, summer or winter, 20 or so regulars plunge into Puget Sound. At a minimum, they do it once week — sometimes it’s daily.

Yet, tough as they are to willing to submerge themselves in water that can dip into the low 40s, there is a group of five ladies who are the craziest of the group. According to the swimmers, Teresa Wiley-Forsyth, Megan Scudder, Sarah Manchester, Marni Zimmerman and Danielle Rideout are the most ardent swimmers and cheerleaders of the group. It can be expected that they will be out on the water facing the elements in December or January, while others may not be as open to the idea of a wintertime swim.

And it’s something that they’re proud of.

“A lot of the other swimmers think we’re crazy,” said Scudder, a physical therapist. “We’re definitely the minority when it comes to winter swims, but I think it’s cool that way.”

The Whidbey Open Water Swimmers can be seen regularly departing mostly from Seawall Park in Langley, Useless Bay and Holmes Harbor in Freeland when the tides provide the best opportunity to swim within close proximity of the shore. While most are seasoned swimmers, the group is open to people with varying experience. Scudder claims to be one of the slower swimmers despite her bold reputation.

“This is a very supportive group,” Wiley-Forsyth said. “While we’re all pretty good swimmers, we want to gather bigger groups so we’re very open to newcomers.”

While one would expect the swimming nuts to be doing it primarily for regular exercise, that isn’t the case for the group of five. Scudder and Manchester, a psychotherapist by trade, are drawn to salt water swimming for the immersive aspect of being surrounded by Whidbey’s underwater habitat.

“Open water swimming is kind of a meditative thing for me,” said Manchester. “I can’t hear anything because I’m wearing ear plugs, the waves make it nearly repetitive and I’m always looking down towards the seafloor when swimming. It’s very immersive and I get into a meditative state.”

Challenging each other to embark on these daunting swims has built a close bond among the five friends. The group doesn’t plan independently of the rest of the open water swimmers, but they show up so often that they expect to see each other, Scudder said. Their collective knack for adventure allows them to feed off of each other’s energy, according to Manchester.

“The group of people I swim with are so amazingly resilient and have some of the finest qualities of anyone I’ve ever been around,” Scudder said. “There is a real assortment of ages and occupations, but in terms of resilience, everyone has it in abundance.”

Adventurous swimmers can take to the water with the Whidbey Open Water Swimmers when it hosts the fifth annual Whidbey Adventure Swim at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 11. The swim will take place on their usual rectangular route in front of Langley’s Seawall Park. A 1.2- and 2.4-mile race are included; the longer version requires swimmers to complete two laps of the Seawall Park route.

This year’s edition will host a few international swimmers, including those from Canada and a swimmer coming across the pond from Germany, said Wiley-Forsyth, who is on the Whidbey Adventure Swim Committee.

Participants must be at least 18 years old and wear wetsuits. The entry fee is $45, with an additional $22 for a one-event U.S. Masters Swimming registration fee for those without a current swim affiliation. The deadline to register online is June 9, but day-of registration is available with a $10 additional fee.