River Hugger

HAPpy People, Margot McKirdy

February 7, 2019

Meet swimmer Margo McKirdy,
who often thinks she is in a cosmic washing machine.

 

Have you always been a swimmer?  How did you find out about the River Huggers?  
I learned to swim at an early age and was lucky enough to live on property in Grass Valley, California with both a small in-ground swimming pool and a 5-acre pond/lake. I was unaware of the entire world/sport/religion of open water swimming until about five years ago. I heard mention of the Portland Bridge Swim, which at the time sounded epic and totally unattainable, but opened my eyes to this whole new crazy community of open water swimmers. It was at the Naked Goddess Swim in 2015 where I met some River Huggers and decided to swim with them the following year. 

You've served as a captain for evening swims with the River Huggers. What’s that been like?
I have been a River Hugger captain for the last two years and it seems to be an evolving job. The River Huggers keep growing and with that comes a lot of changes. The first year I swam with River Huggers we had a smaller more consistent group of evening swimmers and it felt very intimate. When asked if I could be a captain the following year, I eagerly said YES. The next year, our group exploded with new swimmers. Our evening swims grew to 30-40 people at times. Trying to lead a safe swim for a lot of people who swim at various speeds and are finding their way to the water for various reasons can be challenging. The River Huggers is such an important group for me and I am happy to meet the challenge if it helps introduce other people to our beautiful river and swimming community.

What do you think about when you swim?
My mind wanders and my thoughts are usually pretty slippery. When the water gets rough and windy, I like to think I am in some sort of cosmic washing machine, on the spin cycle. I often make intentions to spend a swim thinking about something important in my life, but then find I am unable to maintain those thoughts. I play mind games on long swims. One of my favorites is to take a quick glance at the clouds during a breath and think what it reminds me of - an animal, a face, and then watch how it morphs into other shapes with every breath.

You've done some long swims--tell us about some favorites.
The Portland Bridge Swim was a very symbolic swim for me, taking place right here in the Willamette, right under the bridges that I commute to work over and live my life around. This past year I did two marathon swims in Monterey Bay near Santa Cruz. I am a freshwater girl and wanted the challenge of swimming in the ocean in colder water. During the second swim, I had a shark swim right under me. This was something I had feared, and still fear, and wish I didn't fear. I was able to gather myself and keep going (albeit at a much less relaxed pace). Swimming is sometimes a mental battle between my head and my heart. My head knows not to fear the creatures in the sea, but my heart feels differently when surprised by them in the water. This year, I am training for an even longer adventure, SCAR, which is a 4-day, cumulatively 40-mile stage race in Arizona. Even last year this seemed impossible, right now it seems like a stretch, and time will tell if it will be possible for me. 

You are known for fearless costumes and enthusiastic antics. What are some of your favorites?
First of all, if you take anything from this, don't ever swim in a wig! I do love a good silly swim. Sometimes this might involve wearing an interesting bathing costume, festive make-up, or even wearing nothing at all!

Do you have a dream swim you would love to do someday?
I don't have just one. I crave swimming in deep lakes with cool clear water. I would like to swim across Tahoe (California/Nevada), and Flathead Lake (Montana), and Lake Crescent (Washington). I also dream about swimming in Lake Annecy (France), Lake Geneva (Switzerland/France), and Lake Baikal (Russia). I keep two lists that keep growing - one of new places I have swum, and one of new places I want to swim. 

  You're also a Yeti. What appeals to you about cold water swimming?

The Yetis are a small (but growing) group of swimmers in Portland who have taken to swimming year round and in cold water. Cold water swimming is a totally different beast. It takes a lot of willpower to convince your body to get into cold water and you have to learn to pay attention to the new sensations and cues from your body as you get used to swimming in the cooler temperatures. I have spent the last two years working hard to safely acclimate my body, and I think it important to mention this to people when they ask about cold water swimming because it can be dangerous for someone to approach the cold water without adequately preparing themselves. After these swims, we all huddle together for warmth and I feel a strong intimate connection to my fellow cold water swimmers. 

You're planning on living on a boat!  What's the vision for your boat life?

This is the next adventure! My future husband and I plan on moving onto our sailboat this summer and I have no idea what this new chapter will bring! I look forward to having constant access to the water and exploring new places by boat. 
 
You work with kids. Tell us about taking them to the beach on the Willamette River. Did they mind the guacamole river bottom?
I’ve taken my class (2-3 yr olds) to Poet's Beach many times. The children notice the poems engraved on the rocks that line the pathway down to the beach. They collect rocks on the sand and throw them into the water making splashes. They draw in the sand with sticks. We found a message in a bottle that is still in our classroom unopened (to prolong the mystery). I think it’s important to help children build a relationship with the river.

Last question, is life better as a blonde? 
It’s hard to say, although I’ve had a pretty good year as a blonde. It makes no difference when you are wearing a swim cap!



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