At the age of 22, Jonty Warneken and his 1963 MGB Roadster collided with a tree. As a result of the accident, his left leg was amputated below the knee, and his right ankle was left dislocated and broken. In the weeks following his accident, Jonty had further extensive surgery to rebuild his skull, with much of his forehead being rebuilt with titanium plates, his nose rebuilt with parts of his ear, and (as he is at pains to tell us each time he gets even near cold water) he still struggles with the pins in his remaining right ankle.
Despite spending 6 months in hospital, and countless months learning to adjust to being an amputee, Jonty has never let anything stop him. Losing his left leg wasn’t going to stop him either… Anyone who knows Jonty will tell you that his passion for life and grabbing every opportunity to try something new or get involved in some form of adventure, is both inspiring and contagious. Being around him you wouldn’t really think of him as ‘disabled’. In fact, the first time you know something is ‘different’ is either when you see his plastic foot protruding from his Dyrobe or when he throws his leg from the water to the shore!
In this interview, Jonty, Ice Miler #71 and International Ice Swimming Association Board member, tells us the story of the first disabled Ice Mile…
Swimyourswim (SYS): What made you think about doing an ice mile?
JW: My coach Pauline Squire, made me aware of it. I had moved back to Yorkshire from living in Surrey and Pauline was coaching me. Initially, we were focussed on getting ready for swimming at the Chill Swim event in Windermere, but then she thought I had the capability to do an Ice Mile. When we realised no disabled person at the time had swum an ice mile, I decided that I would try and be the first to bring that ‘glory’ to Yorkshire and GB.
SYS: How difficult was it to acclimatise to cold water?
JW: I found some of the temperatures not too bad, and others harder. Going from 10ºC to 8ºC was tough, 8ºC to 5ºC was ok. I really struggle with anything 3ºC or below due to a titanium pin and damage in my right ankle. At 3ºC or below I can sometimes be in such agony I can’t get in.
SYS: How often did you train? (both pool and open water)
JW: At least once a week outside and a couple of swims during the week in a pool.
SYS: What food did you eat before your swim?
JW: I was nervous but managed to get down some coffee, toast with honey and a banana.
SYS: What was the swim like? Were you prepared for it mentally and physically?
JW: My biggest mental block is always getting in and starting. I remember sitting on the jetty about to get in and thinking I would rather be anywhere else than here right now. Once I was in, I knew I would swim it no problem. I was prepared but I have always had nerves like this before a big sporting event such as when I was playing rugby.
SYS: How did you cope with the recovery process?
JW: I was pretty ok. A few shivers nothing crazy but had an excellent team around me who kept shoving hot chocolate inside me so my recovery wasn’t too hard. Once I was up and walking I was fine.
SYS: What was the reaction of your friends and supporters that were there on your attempts?
JW: A huge amount of admiration and a bit of relief that I was OK (especially from my wife and parents!). Everyone that was there was so supportive and pleased for me, thinking that I may have become the worlds first disabled ice mile. I found it all a little humbling as I didn’t think I had done much to warrant such attention.
SYS: What was the best piece of kit you had that you couldn’t have done without?
JW: My Dryrobe…Simply the essential piece of kit pre and post swim.
SYS: What’s the best advice you could give to an aspiring ice miler ?
JW: Swim at least once a week all year round in a lake or outdoors – irrespective of the weather. Get a good team around you who know when to pull you out if your suffering too much in training and who will push you on if your trying it on. Then, when it comes to your attempt, they will know how you react and what to expect. Finally train hard – do more than the requisite qualification swims so when it comes to the day you can hopefully enjoy the swim as much as finishing!
Ice Swimmers come in all shapes and sizes – that’s one of the beauties of the sport… it is filled with all sorts of fascinating people from across the globe. The icy waters don’t discriminate at all – they chill everyone to the core regardless of what shape you are, how old you are, what sex you are… neither do the icy waters give any quarter to those who are disabled. So, when Jonty Warneken, became the first disabled Ice Miler in 2014, it is understandable that the swimming community stood up to applaud this amazing endurance swim. His swim, on 19th January 2014, was ratified by the International Ice Swimming Association (IISA) and he is now Ice Miler #71 – oh, and the first disabled Ice Miler too!
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