When Hookers Hang Around Swimmers, It Is A Good Thing

Phil White is a visionary. He saw the future of winter swimming in his home state of Vermont and created the Memphremagog Winter Swimming Festival.

For nine consecutive years, White has attracted hundreds of swimmers to the middle of the frozen Lake Memphremagog in Vermont.

Similar to his catchy vernacular for his summer lake events (e.g., yacker), White has originated the term hooker for his safety personnel at his winter swimming extravaganza.

As Don Houghton Jr. demonstrates above along the edge of the 25m pool at the 2023 Memphremagog Winter Swimming Festival (photo courtesy of Kathleene Marcil), a safety hooker walks along the edge of the winter swimming pool with the primary responsibility to rescue a swimmer in trouble by attaching a safety harness apparatus around their body. The harness - or hook - pulls the troubled swimmer out of cold water.

White and Houghton were part of the seriously-minded, totally dedicated local support crew who gathered to welcome 155 winter swimmers from around the US and Canada between February 24th and 26th. The pool was cut by Michael Booth and the 3 Boyz of Winter.

Both lone individual and boisterous pods of swimmers courageously competed in the -0.83°C (30.5°F) water with air temperatures as low as -20.5°C (-5°F). The swimmers represented the Dabulamanzi, the Buckeye Bluetits, the L Street Brownies, the Medford Merfolk, the Canadian Onties, the Cold Tits Warm Hearts, the Coney Island Polar Bears, The Penn Herons, Shark Bait Sheilas, and from the states of Vermont, California, Virginia, Quebec, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Washington.

White reported, "Over 40 volunteers escorted swimmers to and from the pool, helped strip, and dress them before and after their swims, walked each side of the pool with pool hooks at the ready to pull any swimmer in distress, started each race, timed the results, and helped warm the swimmers after their swim in the Marina Building before returning them to the EastSide Restaurant and Pub, and entered the times for each event.

This year’s Festival honored Gerry Fassett of Levis, Quebec who passed away from cancer in 2022. He was awarded the Bob Kraft Happy Hooker Award in 2020 which he received wearing his sling which he wore throughout that year’s Festival while hooking the pool for two days."

This year’s Ribbon Ceremony - where swimmers and volunteers walked single file by the pool side to drop their ribbons one by one - honored Fassett. Each person who wanted to participate donated US$10 for a ribbon, wrote the name of a family member, friend, or acquaintance who has battled cancer, successfully or not. We raised US$1,003 for the Halo Foundation, a local organization that helps cancer patients and their families with unreimbursed expenses related to treatment. Kingdom Games matched these donations dollar for dollar in Gerry’s honor. Total raised for Halo was US$2,006."

White traditionaly offers edible non-medals as his much-appreciated awards including beef jerky, maple syrup, Barr Hill Honey, and woodals.

Jeremy Whelchel was the fastest swimmer on the opening day's 25m freestyle sprint, swimming one length in 13.11 to win a ¼ pound of Brault’s Beef Jerky and a quart of Couture’s Maple Syrup. Hannah Bradbury was the women's speedy swimmer of the event, winning in 15.25 for a new pool record.

Stephen Rouch won a pound of Brault’s Beef Jerky in the 200m freestyle in 2.33.69 as did Juliet Kadlecek with a time of 2.47.00, just a couple of seconds off her pool record which she set last year.

Elaine Howley was judged the winner of the 25m Hat Competition with her innovative Slava Ukraine design with grain and sunflowers. The Ice Miler won the Winner Take All award of a pound of Brault’s and a Gallon of Couture’s.

39-year-old Andrew Trout and 57-year-old Juliet Kadlecek won the 50m freestyle in 30.41 and 34.15 respectively. Winning in the transgender category was Chance Krampaski who took home his share of beef jerky and maple syrup.

42-year-old Bulcsu Lengel and 28-year-old Mariah Reading won the 25m breaststroke in 16.20 and 20.30 respectively.

39-year-old Jeremy Whelchel and Hannah Bradbury both won their second race of the competition in the 25m butterfly in 14.79 and 15.88 respectively.

42-year-old Stephen Rouch and Hannah Bradbury won the 100m freestyle in 1:09.52 and 1:11.77, setting a female pool record.

White explains the deep-seated enthusiasm shown during the festively cold three-day event, "Of course, speed had little to do with why so many swam. The lure of the cold. The sense of adventure. The camaraderie among this growing Tribe was evident from the start and throughout the Festival. One of the many touching moments was when Amy Craigen returned for the first time following an injury and was able to finish the 100m freestyle with Nadine Bennett who was also recovering from an injury. They finished together and embraced each other before they exited the pool. Can’t begin to say how great it is to see both of them swimming strong together."

Kellie Latimer after the 200m freestyle, photo by Kathleene Marcil.

Memphremagog Winter Swim Festival - Pool Records

Female 25m breaststroke: Mariah Reading, 19.70 in 2022
Male 25m breaststroke: Rick Born, 16.18 in 2019
Female 25m freestyle: Hannah Bradbury, 15:25 in 2023
Male 25m freestyle: Craig Ross, 12.35 in 2018
Female 25m butterfly: Daina Bouquin, 15.40 in 2022
Male 25m butterfly: Craig Ross, 13.71 in 2018
Female 50m freestyle: Daina Bouquin, 33.23 in 2015
Male 50m freestyle: Craig Ross, 29.1 in 2018
Female 100m freestyle: Hannah Bradbury, 1:11.17 in 2023
Male 100m freestyle: Stephen Rouch, 1:06.80 in 2019
Female 200m freestyle: Juliet Kadlecek, 2:45.93 in 2022
Male 200m freestyle: Conor Turner, 2:30.48 in 2018
200m relay: Yorkshire I (Juliet Kadlecek, Ed Gabriels, Diego Voglino and Jeremy Whelchel), 2:20.33 in 2023

By Steven Munatones.
Southern California native, born 1962, is the creator of the WOWSA AwardsOceans SevenOpenwaterpedia, Citrus Corps, World Open Water Swimming AssociationDaily News of Open Water SwimmingGlobal Open Water Swimming Conference. He is Chief Executive Officer of KAATSU Global and Editor of the KAATSU Magazine. Inductee in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame (Honor Swimmer, Class of 2001) and Ice Swimming Hall of Fame (Honor Contributor - Media, Class of 2019), recipient of the International Swimming Hall of Fame's Poseidon Award (2016), International Swimming Hall of Fame's Irving Davids-Captain Roger Wheeler Memorial Award (2010), Dale Petranech Award for Services to the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame (2022), USA Swimming's Glen S. Hummer Award (2007 and 2010), and Harvard University's John B. Imrie Award (1984, awarded to the senior whose interests are not bounded by academic or institutional structures. A joyous, deeply-rooted affirmation of life, disdain for the purely conventional; a love of adventure, and desire to learn by experiencing; the ability to respond creatively to difficult situations). Served on the FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee (until 2011) and as Technical Delegate with the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games, a 9-time USA Swimming coaching staff including 4 FINA World Championships, and 2008 NBC Olympic 10K Marathon Swim commentator.


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