By Steven Munatones, Swimming World Open Water Correspondent
LOS ANGELES, California, February 7. 39°F (4°C) water temperature, 32°F (0°C) air temperature with a 19°F (-7°C) wind chill due to a wind. Those conditions adequately define extreme swimming.
Ram Barkai, 51, and Andrew Chin, 40, both from Cape Town, South Africa, swam 1.3K and 2K respectively in Lake Zurich in mid-winter following standard English Channel rules (i.e., no wetsuits or suits below the knee or covering the arms*).
Chin said he had planned ahead of the swim to cover one kilometer, while Barkai aimed for two. Local physician Dr. Beat Knechtle who oversaw the swim, added: "No one has ever swum these distances in the lake in winter before."
Chin said, "Within minutes of diving into the lake, I lost feeling in my hands and feet. In fact, I was completely numb by the time I decided to stop swimming."
In order to take his mind off the pain during his swim, Chin repeated his wife and children's names in his head while swimming.
"When I started battling to say their names, I knew it was time to get out. All I remember is the support team dragging me into a boat and covering me in blankets."
Barkai, who joined Lynne Cox and Lewis Gordon Pugh as the only individuals to swim a significant distance (1K) in Antarctica, said he had decided to continue when Chin got into the boat despite being painfully cold.
"The last 500 meters were very hard. I was breathing into a headwind of -7°C (19°C) so each gulp of air was icy and painful. I tried to close my hands into fists, but couldn't. They were frozen stiff."
Towards the end of his 2K swim, a police diver in one of the four support boats jumped into the lake and swam alongside Barkai fearing the worst.
"I really wanted to finish the swim, but was struggling. I kept my eyes locked on the team doctor each time I breathed and knew if he wasn't worried about me, then I was okay."
Barkai started hyperventilating after finishing his swim, but with support from the doctor he brought his breathing back to normal.
"It was only after 30 minutes in a hot shower that I started recovering. I don't remember anything at the end, except that I was dragged out of the water. I couldn't stand."
Despite having swum the furthest south of any human on record, Barkai said, "The wind chill factor had made this definitely the hardest swim I have ever done."
* According to the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation rules, 'No person in a Standard attempt to swim the [English] Channel shall use or be assisted by an artificial aid of any kind, but is permitted to grease the body before a swim, use goggles, wear one cap and one costume. The word 'costume and cap' shall mean a garment, not made of neoprene or rubber or any other material considered by the Federation to give a similar type of advantage, and not in any way designed to contain body heat, and/or aid buoyancy.'