Dipping her body into the chill of Lake Burley Griffin on a winter-like May afternoon is a far cry from what Lifeline telephone crisis coordinator Amanda McCormack calls the “after-burn” of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amanda is one of the brave souls baring all for this year’s fifth annual Lifeline Winter Solstice Nude Charity Swim, taking place at sunrise on 21 June. However, she says the near-freezing water is nothing compared to the trauma people are still experiencing as the pandemic ebbs and flows.
“The biggest challenge is that there aren’t enough people to respond to those in need,” says Amanda, who has been answering the calls for help with Lifeline for nine years.
“For us, the after-burn is understanding what’s going to happen when everything we’ve been going through as a community catches up with us.
“We deal with those post-traumatic stresses differently, so doing the nude swim this year will be a cleansing ritual for me and everyone who participates. I did it in 2019, and it was the most enlightening and empowering experience I’ve had among so many different people.
“It’s a lot better than what you think.”
Only two people, Peter Lindeman and Geoff Arney, were able to participate in last year’s winter solstice swim due to COVID-19. However, it still raised almost $20,000 for Lifeline to help continue its crisis support services in Canberra.
The event is also held in memory of the solstice swim’s founder, Ian Lindeman, who died from liver cancer in November 2019.
It also honours the memory of Evan Lindeman, Jakob Oakey and Steve Wright who succumbed to mental health issues.
Ian’s brother Peter has taken part in every swim since its inception in 2017, even though he’s not a big fan of nude swimming and prefers the dive-straight-in method.
“This is about continuing Ian’s legacy for using the swim as a way to help the community,” Peter said. “Ian would always say it was such a spiritually cleansing thing to do, so it’s become our way of continuing his legacy, even though I’m not the type to strip off and go for a swim.”
Ian’s son Rowan will take part in his first solstice swim this year.
“We’ve already had 71 registrations and over $3000 raised so we’re really hopeful more people get behind what is a uniquely Canberra experience to get re-invigorated,” he said.
Organiser Ben Johnston said it was exciting to welcome everyone back this year after reimagining the event during last year’s COVID restrictions.
“This year, we’re looking to try to get between 350 and 400 people so we can raise as much money as possible to support Lifeline’s work,” Mr Johnston said.
“We’re hoping to raise $80,000, so we’re really encouraging people to get involved and celebrate by doing something crazy, like swimming naked.”
At 7:12 am on the shortest day of the year, participants will enter the water for a short swim out to the pontoon at Yarralumla Bay after being welcomed by a ceremonial bagpiper. The ritual cleansing then comes with lots of warm clothes and a fire pit to share in the ‘after-glow’ with a free sausage sizzle and coffee.
Lifeline Canberra CEO Carrie Leeson said the event is a highlight on the Lifeline Canberra calendar and is a great way for the Canberra community to connect.
“We are immeasurably grateful to everyone who participates to demonstrate true vulnerability and the power of community,” Ms Leeson said. “We anticipate we’ll have a record number of people take part this year with the anticipation of not being able to take part last year has flowed over to this year.”
She also said she would “seriously consider” taking part but needed a bit more encouragement.
The event has a strict ‘no spectators’ policy, so the only way to get involved is to bare all and have a swim.
All funds raised go towards Lifeline’s crisis support services in Canberra and its 13 11 14 helpline.
Further information, including how to register, is available on the Winter Solstice Swim website.