Onset freezes over for cold water therapy

Mar 6, 2023

On the early morning of Monday, Jan. 30, eight people stood waist-deep in the inky waters of Onset Bay, relaxing and casually chatting as if the sea wasn’t 42 degrees. 

Onlooker Diane Leonelli, who was walking her dog when she came across the frigid floaters, asked the obvious question.

“What on Earth are they doing?” Leonelli exclaimed in disbelief. 

According to “intuitive wellness coach” Cherie Blier, who leads the Onset Bay Center’s Cold Water Wellness program on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday mornings, there’s no better way to start the day.

Cold water, she said, provides a host of health benefits. It clears the mind, boosts the immune system, releases endorphins and improves heart circulation.

“The first 30 seconds to a minute is the most trying part,” she said, “to get your head in the zone. But once you’re cold, you’re cold.” 

The Cold Water Wellness program, which started in late January, is a collaboration between Blier and the Center.

After the success of the New Year’s Plunge, in which revelers ran into Onset Bay and immediately ran out, Blier thought: What if they stayed in for longer? 

“The benefits are so immediate and so incredible,” Blier said.

Blier, Buzzards Bay Coalition Vice President of Outdoor Exploration Stuart Downie and six others cheered as they ran toward the water. 

“Don’t hesitate,” Blier said. “Let’s GO!”

Compared to Saturday, Jan. 28, when Onset Bay was 39 degrees, Blier found the water “balmy.” 

She said that controlled breathing is key to withstanding the cold.

“Let your body shiver if it starts to shiver,” she said. “You want your body to shiver, because that’s its natural way to warm up.”

No one was allowed to spend more than six minutes in the water.

“Yippee!” 80-year-old James Devaux cried when he reached the four-minute mark. “Even the seagulls are retreating.”

Deveaux joined the Cold Water Wellness program because he was looking for something to do.

“Your whole body just tingles and feels very, very good,” he said. 

Grace Pietsch started swimming in cold water as a bet. After she convinced one of her friends to go on an adventure race with her, he convinced her to swim in icy water.

“This is the largest payout for the smallest amount of effort,” she said. “I can be in here for five minutes and think, ‘I’m amazing,’ but I have to bike for 100 miles to think ‘I’m awesome.’”

Downie said that the Buzzards Bay Coalition plans to continue Cold Water Wellness Mondays and Wednesdays at 9:30 a.m. and Saturdays at 8 a.m. “until the water gets warm.”

“I mean, it’s cold to be in the water,” Pietsch said. “It’s kind of intense, but when you get out, there’s a big endorphin rush. And I feel like, ‘Oh my God, I can conquer anything.’”

To register for the free program, visit savebuzzardsbay.org/onset-bay/cold-water-wellness/