Swimming Above the Arctic Circle

I had the honor of being invited to participate in the Gulf Stream Festival in Murmansk, Russia this past September.

It was a blast!!! I was so nervous about traveling to Russia but it ended up being amazing!

Thursday, September 8th:

  • After flying from Boston to New York to Moscow to Murmansk, I got picked up by Dmitry the organizer and was assigned my own personal translator! Liza was so sweet and a student from nearby university studying English.  We were all assigned a translator since it was hard to get around Russia being completely illiterate.  Can’t even read the alphabet!
  • Met my roommate Birna from Iceland! We had spoken on Facebook many times in the past but finally we got to meet.  She was the perfect roommate for me and we had a BLAST all weekend. She is outgoing and fun and also love her own personal space like me.
  • Had my first Russian dinner that Liza took us- BORSCH SOUP was amazing!!!!!! Also, the exchange rate was SO in America’s favor so the food was cheap. (A fancy steak at a nice restaurant cost me $5 USD).

Friday, September 9th:

  • In the morning, the organizers welcomed us with a Russian dance.   In the afternoon we met with some journalists and a few of us answered questions for their newspapers.
  • Went for a swim at the local lake! Water was about 50 and it felt good actually! It was nice to get the feeling of the temps considering Boston is about 68 at the time.  I’ve had no access to cold water for months so I have been doing ice baths at home.  PAINFUL.
  • In the evening after dinner, we had our safety meeting.  We turned in our paperwork from our doctors (EKG, doctor’s note, etc). They were very strict with safety! At the meeting is also when I apparently missed them talking about what to do if you missed the ladder chute for the finish due to the currents (which is to get out, walk around and touch the ladder but I completely did not hear this).

Saturday, September 10th:

  • Race day! After breakfast, we had our medical examination which for me was just them taking my blood pressure.
  • It was a BEAUTIFUL day.  It was 50ish out, sun shining, water completely flat.  Temp was 8-10C.  WARM!!!
  • I actually had a terrible swim.  When water temps gets under 55, I usually swim heads-up breaststroke for a few minutes until my breathing feels fine.  But for some reason I didn’t do it this time- maybe because it was a race, or I felt rushed, or people were watching, but I jumped in and immediately could not breathe.  The problem was I never caught my breath for the entire race! I was swimming SO slowly that a guy doing breaststroke passed me.  But I could not breathe the whole time and due to that, I kept getting swept up by the currents and almost went under the bridge.
  • Since I was swimming slowly and not really breathing normally, I got a little more disorientated towards the finish because I was going through hypothermia.  I couldn’t keep up my normal pace to keep warm since I was struggling with my breathing.   I did make it to the finish but the current swept me up and I aimed too far to the left and missed the ladder chute.  I had to get out at the rocks, which apparently wasn’t really a problem.  The problem was I had no idea that if you did get out at the rocks, you had to walk to the finish and touch the ladder to get an official time.  I did not do that and just went into the warming tent.
  • I didn’t realize I didn’t get a time until the next day when they printed the results and people asked me what happened.  I was like what?!! I had no idea.  Honestly, I was just happy I finished and my time would have SUCKED anyways.  Better not to know.  I was not swimming, I was just treading water half the time!
  • The warming tent was AWESOME!!! They took a bed sheet, dunked it in hot water, then put the wet sheet over you.  It was the best way to warm up! Plus they gave you hot drinks too.
  • We waited around 4 hours at the Kola Bridge (where the swim was) and then finally got on stage for the awards ceremony.  We paraded our flags and they gave us medals and awarded the top 3 finishers! Loads of fun.  See video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZUyJBL1ruM
  • We had dinner and drinks with all the swimmers at the bar in the hotel.  Lots of people like my roommate went to a nightclub after but I was too sleepy at this point. I had a rough time adjusting to the time difference since I got there.

Sunday,  September 11th:

  • Tour day! They took us on a city tour in the morning and we saw the soldier statue which was cool.
  • We also saw the nuclear Icebreaker ship!!! That was pretty awesome.
  • Later in the evening, they had a huge 3 hour concert in front of the hotel celebrating the 100th anniversary of Murmansk! We had a flag parade where I got to walk with the American flag on stage! See video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80maVPqXA-Q
  • After the concert, one rep from each country got invited to have dinner with the Mayor of Murmansk.  It was a lovely and small dinner.  We had an AMAZING big band play for us, and they did covers of Michael Jackson songs!!! So sweet.
  • I left immediately after the dinner for a 3am flight to Moscow!

Monday, September 12th:

  • I stayed a night in Moscow so I can see the sights! I booked an all day long walking private city tour of Moscow. I had two different guides and I got to see a LOT of wonderful sites.
  • Highlights: Kremlin and St Basil Cathedral.  It was all so lovely to see the architecture and the colorful buildings.
  • AND LOVE THE RUSSIAN FOOD! I got a Russian lunch and it was so tasty.  I got these dumplings that is filled with cabbage.  SO GOOD.  And the vodka was awesome too!
  • My new friend Sam from South Africa and her husband got to Moscow that evening and we had a wonderful dinner.




I let myself eat anything and everything when I am on vacation, especially in foreign countries.


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