Paisley dad embraces winter weather with ice swimming

For most people, winter means staying inside, wrapping up warm and keeping cosy.

But for Paisley dad James Leitch, the cold weather is an opportunity for him to brave icy waters and indulge the sport he loves.

James, 46, has always been a keen swimmer and was a member of Paisley Swimming Club and Ren96 and even competed in British and European championships.

He’s kept his passion alive as he’s gotten older by enjoying open water swimming but when the competition rules changed for participants to wear wetsuits, he decided it wasn’t for him.

Then he discovered ice swimming, the international sport where all you’re allowed to wear is normal trunks or a swimming costume, a swim cap and goggles.

In water no warmer than five degrees Celsius.

To put that in perspective, the inside of most fridges is a chilly 7 degrees.

He said: “I used to be an open water swimmer years ago. I was the British Open Water Swimming champion in my 20s.

“I’m now 46 and I’m not so fast any more.

“Ice Water Swimming is a proper sport. There’s a British championship every year and I’m the oldest one they’ve had.”

The International Ice Swimming Association (ISSA) is campaigning for the blue riband 1,000m freestyle event to be included in the next Winter Olympics, to be held in Milan in 2026.

James competed at the World Championships in Poland earlier this month. He took four months off his work and trained hard – swimming at least 10k every day – to give himself a fighting chance.

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He set a new British record but unfortunately was just outside the medal positions, coming fourth in the 1,000m freestyle race.

However, he had the all-important anchor leg in the Team GB relay and together they finished third and brought home a bronze medal.

British ice swimming champion James Leitch from Paisley came 4th at the World Championships
James with the rest of the relay team after the race

James said: “I did a little bit of training for the last world championships in Russia in 2019 and came seventh overall. I decided to go for it this time and took the time off my work to train.

“This time I just missed out on third and came fourth. It’s still good for me, I’m still the British Ice Swimming champion.

“Even though I’m older, I’m still competing with the younger guys. I keep pushing myself.

“I didn’t think I was near getting the medals but I wasn’t far away at all.”

James lives in Paisley with his wife Claire and their children James, 17 and 11-year-old Ellie. He trains at the David Lloyd center in Renfrew and also enjoys swimming in Loch Lomond.

He works as a commercial diver and, with Claire, runs Caffe Lusso on School Wynd in Paisley.

He admits ice swimming isn’t for everyone but he’s showing no signs of giving it up with plans to tackle the world record for the longest ice swim of 3.8k.

Ice swimmer James Leitch from Paisley
James with his wife Claire after swimming at Loch Lomond

James said: “I’ve been to extremes before, I know how hard it is. As a commercial diver I know how hard it can be.

“You come out and your body can be in violent hypothermia, everyone is the same. You’re trying to heat up and it can take at least half an hour or an hour to get your body back to normal.

“It can be quite scary for some of them.”

He added: “I love doing it. Swimming is what I’ve done all my life. I enjoy doing all the training. When you’re standing at the side, no part of you wants to go in the water.

“But when it’s a competition, the adrenalin kicks in.

“For me it’s about fitness and trying to be the best I can. I still want to go out there and do well.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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