Heidi Armstrong

Injury Recovery Coach

My friend Steve jokes after our winter swims, “we put the “high” in hypothermia.

I grew up swimming competitively and, like so many swimmers, I burned out. I’d developed an allergy to the stripe on the bottom of the pool. Without regret, one late night I drove by Goodwill, barely slowing down to open the door and toss out my swimming equipment and parka. That was 1993.

In November 2010, I suffered a life-changing injury. As an athlete, movement is how I connect with my life and process everyday stress. If I wanted to preserve my sanity, I needed to find an injury-friendly way to move.

Re-enter swimming, and what turned out to be, like my injury, something that would change my life–Barton Springs.

It took my best friend two years to convince me to swim at Barton Springs. I hated the thought of being cold while swimming. Finally, in the summer of 2013, I borrowed a wetsuit from a friend and did my first swim at Barton Springs on July 4, 2013. After 2 miles, I didn’t want to get out! I was in heaven surrounded by beautiful plants, bubbles, fish, and turtles. While I had acclimated to summer swimming in a wetsuit, my body hadn’t acclimated to winter swimming, so I swam inside during the winter of 2013. On one of my first post-winter swims back at Barton Springs in the spring of 2014, I met Steve Frost, and the two of us became fast friends. Steve introduced me to a bunch of other swimmers, and, before I knew it, I had a crew of new swim friends. (Maybe you’ve seen our blue swim caps at the pool. We call ourselves the Austin Water Moccasins (there’s a good story behind our name).

During the spring and summer of 2014, I trained–still in my wetsuit–in Barton Springs for an 11-mile open water swim. Each swim was more heavenly than the last. I decided to tough out the winter of 2014–swimming outside in my wetsuit–because I couldn’t imagine life without the Springs or my friends; I was hooked. What a glorious winter that was. I cherished every steamy, heavenly morning swim. I loved watching the cormorants dive like torpedoes as they fished.

In the spring of 2015, I decided I had acclimated enough to begin swimming without my wetsuit. After about 3 months, I was wetsuit-free! I acclimated so well that I trained for a 10-kilometer open water race all without a wetsuit! In the winter of 2015, I was able to swim comfortably through the season with no wetsuit.

I’m sharing my cold-water acclimation journey to let everyone know it’s possible to acclimate to Barton Springs; our bodies are incredibly adaptable. To acclimate to Barton Springs is to experience true freedom from stress and anxiety and to connect with nature in the purest sense I know.

Barton Springs equals magic to me. It has brought me a sense of peace, escape from my disability and pain, and pure joy. My friend Steve jokes after our winter swims, “we put the “high” in hypothermia.” The euphoria post-Barton Springs swimming can’t be beat!

In 2015, our gaggle swimmer friends coined itself the Austin Water Moccasins. We can be found in the water sporting bright blue or pink swim caps or enjoying a poolside chat with one another. I love that I almost always see a fellow Moccasin on my visits to the Springs.

I couldn’t walk without crutches for four years, but I experienced full freedom from disability in the cold waters of Barton Springs.

Heidi Armstrong is the founder of www.injuredathletestoolbox.com and an Injury Recovery Coach. Heidi works one on one with injured athletes, helping them to move from feeling frustrated, impatient, and angry, to feeling optimistic, patient, and motivated by using the essential tools for injury recovery. PS-To Heidi, an athlete is anyone who enjoys movement.