How Bárbara Hernández Huerta achieved the longest polar swim ever
In unfathomable water temperatures of 2.2°C, dryrobe® Ambassador Bárbara Hernández Huerta (AKA Ice Mermaid) took on the most extreme swim of her career, becoming the first person to swim more than 2.5km in Antarctic waters.
Her epic accomplishment has earned her the Guinness World Record for the longest polar swim ever in Antarctica or the Arctic, adding to her many impressive swimming achievements.
(Photo courtesy of Felipe Molina)
Powered with the motivation to spread awareness of protecting Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, Bárbara fiercely took on the challenge of swimming for over 45 minutes wearing just a swimsuit!
We were excited to speak to Bárbara about her incredible achievement and find out what it was like to swim in such a cold but beautiful part of the world.
What inspired you to persevere with your dream to complete this challenge?
I think it's having learned that time is an opportunity to arrive better prepared, to build opportunities, and to nurture the objective with purpose and meaning.
I felt that Antarctica was calling me and that I had to persist so I worked very hard to obtain the permits. I prepared my team. I looked for the opportunity to make this documentary and I started again, even though our first opportunity was almost a year ago and it was postponed due to the covid.
The swim took over 45 minutes to complete in 2.2°C water wearing just a swimsuit! How do you prepare your mindset when swimming in such cold temperatures with no neoprene or protective grease?
This was an extreme swim, perhaps the most difficult one of my life, and I needed to train specifically for it.
The process does not start a year before the swim, it starts with each winter swimming season in which I competed. The long training sessions in a regular pool are joined by increasingly cold swims in the glaciers in Chile.
And, even with the World Championship in Samöens where I won my distance, you must add to the mental training, to clarify your purpose and give a place to fear - don't deny it, just give it a place in you that is not greater than your purpose and love for what you do. That is my way.
And in the end, all of this gives you the security, not of achieving the impossible swim, but of taking yourself to the limit for the slightest chance of achieving it.
How did it feel to have the support of the Chilean Navy with you?
That was amazing! It had so much meaning to me and my team because we worked together for this possibility.
We sailed for 3 weeks from Punta Arenas, Drake passage, and we travelled to the Antarctic together - we were a big family
We swam in a place called Chile Bay one day before the anniversary of their base where Chileans live all year. To give them a Guinness World Record is an honour.
Was there anything about this swim that made it especially memorable? How has it compared to your previous challenges?
It is the place. It is not just the cold waters or swimming in front of a huge glacier, it was the opportunity to take the eyes of the world to the Antarctic Ocean that must be conserved with the creation of protected maritime areas.
That is what makes it unique for me, that Antarctica gave me the opportunity to be there. Its sea was calm and windless. The fauna also allowed me to swim. Only one penguin accompanied me and, in "perfect" extreme conditions, it allowed me to swim an impossible distance which became a Guinness record as the longest polar swim ever in Antarctica or the Arctic.
Why is it important to raise awareness about the need to protect Antarctica and the Southern Ocean with this swim?
This swim in Antarctica was our opportunity to take the eyes of the world to this magical place and to talk about the sad effects that climate change has and that affect us and will affect us over the years.
Most of us are unaware that high CO2 levels increase the melting of its ancient ice sheets, increasing the flow of the sea and even changing its pH, or that ships extract tons of Krill per year, which is the basis of wildlife food.
Many people are also unaware that the Antarctic Ocean currently nourishes the world's oceans. Antarctica is the heart of the planet and we are unaware of it, therefore we do not urge our leaders to protect it and we ourselves neglect actions to care for the environment.
On Instagram, you shared a video on your recovery with your team. What is the recovery process like and how long were you under their care?
The recovery process is the most difficult part of an extreme swim.
I decided to undertake this challenge because I knew that the Chilean Navy had everything necessary to help me and also because of the team that accompanied me - they are experts in hypothermia and its recovery.
At the end of the swim, we took off the wet swimsuit and warmed up with my dryrobe® Advance which is my "must" before and after each swim. They put me on a stretcher and in minutes they took me to the ship, in their infirmary heated to 30°C.
They monitored and took the internal temperature which marked a minimum of 27°C, something very dangerous.
Recovery is gradual and must be controlled, so we spent 2 hours in this monitoring, where I did not lose consciousness, they used warm serum and glucose as well.
I think my team had the worst part of seeing me with so much hypothermia. For my part, I felt so safe and loved that I have no distressing memories of the process. Two hours later I went to sit with my friends from the ship and wait for them to take me down to the base to talk to my parents.
(Photo courtesy of Felipe Molina)
What is it about ice swimming in such cold temperatures that keeps you coming back for more?
I think it is the places, the beautiful and clear waters, the ice, and the challenge of course - but also who I am when I am in those conditions, clear thoughts, and the connection with the water.
Photos courtesy of Shawn Heinrichs unless stated otherwise
Photo courtesy of Felipe Molina
Bárbara wears the Black Red dryrobe® Advance