A group of brave souls is jumping into Lake Couchiching every Friday and Saturday morning this winter.
Couchiching Community Cold Dippers was created by Vita Rubino in November following the sudden death of her mother in late August, and then the death of her son’s father three weeks later.
“I was dealing with compounded grief, and I felt my mental health was really suffering,” Rubino explained.
On a November afternoon, Rubino, who had tried cold dipping before, texted her friend, Billy Brown, to ask him to jump in the lake with her.
“I knew it would be good for my mental health,” Rubino said. “We jumped off the pier and sat in the water for a few minutes. I breathed through it and felt so much better when I got out.”
Rubino, 46, says the experience made her realize other people in the community dealing with stress and mental health concerns need an outlet.
“We put it out on social media that we are going to start this community thing (and) if people are available and want to join to come on out,” she said. “The very next week, we had six people come out. The week after that, we had 20, and it’s grown ever since.”
The group meets every Friday at 9:45 a.m. and Saturday at 9:30 a.m. to take the polar plunge.
“There are so many scientific reasons and research that states that it helps the nervous system,” Rubino said. “It calms the body down, and using the breath to regulate your nervous system really puts you into a Zen state.”
She says new members of the group who have never taken the polar plunge are apprehensive about putting their bodies in the cold water.
“A lot of times, they are terrified, but they are here because they want to do it,” she said. “When they get out, they say that it’s incredible.”
Most people who try it end up coming back, she says.
“A couple of people who have specifically been dealing with mental health issues have said to us directly that it’s impacted their mental health state,” she said. “Doing it more regularly has led them to feeling the best they’ve felt in a long time.”
Brown, a holistic nutritionist, says plunging into the cold water brings people closer to themselves.
“You are connecting to yourself and nature,” he said. “It’s sort of a spiritual injection. If you aren’t a spiritual person, you tend to develop that after you get in there.”
He says the plunge forces people to be present, face the cold, and embrace the winter.
“Being in ice water in the middle of winter allows you to flip the story about how winter is this terrible and cold season,” he said. “I, personally, battle seasonal depression, so it’s really nice to have this endorphin boost.”
Rebecca Selesnic travels from the Midland area each week to join in on the fun.
“I wanted to try something out of my comfort zone,” she said. “I think it is absolutely amazing, and that’s why I keep coming back.”
Selesnic was hesitant to join the group.
“I thought to myself that I have got to be crazy to be doing this,” she said. “If you can do something like this, you can definitely do anything you put your mind to.”
Robbie McQuillan, an Orillia resident, used to jump in the lake near Fittons Road by himself.
“Eventually, my wife said that I shouldn’t be doing this alone,” he said. “So, I started coming out with these guys and they are an absolute riot.”
It gives him the jolt he needs.
“I don’t really drink coffee, have caffeine, or things like that,” he said. “This surely wakes me up.”