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Siberian Swimmers Take the Plunge With Air Temps at -30C

  • Reuters

Women follow Mikhail Sashko (L), chairman and one of the founders of the Cryophile winter swimmers club, during a celebration of his 68th birthday in the Yenisei River in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Nov. 21, 2015.

Women follow Mikhail Sashko (L), chairman and one of the founders of the Cryophile winter swimmers club, during a celebration of his 68th birthday in the Yenisei River in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Nov. 21, 2015.

A winter swimming club in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk gathers young and old from all walks of life. They share a love of bracing, cold water. Siberian cold.

"The moment of immersion is a sensation of delight. Afterwards there's a rush of energy and my entire body feels relaxed," said Mikhail Sashko, 68, chairman of the club. "My wife says I am crazy."

With a small wooden clubhouse on the banks of the Yenisei River, the Cryophile winter swimming club - named after organisms that thrive in extremely cold temperatures - has about 300 members.

These swimmers say they, themselves, flourish in air temperatures that often reach 30 degrees Celsius below zero (minus 22 Fahrenheit) or lower in the long months of a Siberian winter.

Mikhail Shakov, 23, a demobilized Russian soldier, swims towards an ice-floe and sports a traditional ushanka, or ear-hat. Nikolai Bocharov, 77, rubs snow on his body as he sits on a snowdrift after bathing.

Nikolai Bocharov, 77, a member of the Cryophile winter swimmers club, rubs snow on his body as he sits on a snowdrift after bathing in the icy water of the Yenisei River in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Nov. 21, 2015.

Nikolai Bocharov, 77, a member of the Cryophile winter swimmers club, rubs snow on his body as he sits on a snowdrift after bathing in the icy water of the Yenisei River in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Nov. 21, 2015.

Aged from under 1 to 79 years old, the members include school pupils, engineers and retired construction or water utility workers.

The club's spirit of fun includes pouring buckets of water on each other when celebrating Polar Bear Day at a zoo in a suburb of Krasnoyarsk, one of Siberia's largest cities. Like children anywhere, young club members have snowball fights - but in this case wearing just their swimming costumes.

Some members of the club say regular bathing in cold water has had a positive impact on their health. Yulia Klimenkova, 16, whose whole family are also members, says the cold water boosts her immunity and recently helped her get over a respiratory virus.

Vladimir Khokhlov, 71, a former builder and now a pensioner, dates his passion for swimming in all weathers to a September day in 1990, the year the Cryophile club was founded. While on a fishing trip on the banks of the Yenisei, he got up one morning and felt inspired to jump in the river. He hasn't stopped since.

"I can't live without bathing daily in cold water, it's like a drug," says Khokhlov, who also works as a caretaker, maintaining ice levels on an outdoor hockey rink. "If there's no river nearby I have to find another way to pour cold water over myself from head to foot."

Once in the clubhouse - where access is based on a rota because of the building's small size - club members relax in the sauna, chat over a hot drink or play the piano.

Members of the Cryophile winter swimmers club gather inside the wooden clubhouse on the banks of the Yenisei River in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Dec. 13, 2015.

Members of the Cryophile winter swimmers club gather inside the wooden clubhouse on the banks of the Yenisei River in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Dec. 13, 2015.

It's not for everyone. Klimenkova, who has been swimming with the club since she was four, says her friends praise her bravery but balk at taking the plunge themselves.

"Many of my friends and their parents say it's impossible to bathe in the winter in the Yenisei River," says 9-year-old Nastya Usachyova. "They don't approve."

Nastya Usachyova, 9, and her mother Natalia, 39, members of the Cryophile winter swimmers club, warm up before swimming in the Yenisei River in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Nov. 14, 2015.

Nastya Usachyova, 9, and her mother Natalia, 39, members of the Cryophile winter swimmers club, warm up before swimming in the Yenisei River in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Nov. 14, 2015.

For others, taking a dip no matter what the temperature is a way of disconnecting from daily life and setting their troubles to one side.

"All problems leave me," says Shakov, the ex-solder who is also an unemployed teacher, "The world around me seems beautiful."

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