Meet the Chair: IISA USA

Dec 2017

It’s a big country—somebody’s gotta run it

Elaine K Howley, 26 December 2017

We'll be introducing you to leaders within the International Ice Swimming Association in the coming weeks. Next up is IISA USA Chair Rena Demeo.

rena demeo leads American Ice Swimming from her ocean-side perch in Nahant, Massachusetts. The 48-year old swimmer got into ice swimming about four years ago, after her fourth surgery to fuse a shattered ankle. “I was in the pool every day doing deep water running and water aerobics. My schedule put me in the pool at the same time as the Masters class,” and those swimmers inspired her to start swimming in earnest. I was so bored with what I was doing, and I was missing training for something, so I taught myself to swim by watching YouTube videos. I sucked at first, but after a year, I did a painful three-mile swim in Vermont,” she says. Around that same time she connected with an open water swimming group called the Nahant Knuckleheads, who swim year-round on a gorgeous beach just north of Boston, and that’s how she fell in love with ice swimming. “I had no idea what I was getting into,” she says. “Luckily, the Knuckleheads were super generous with their advice and experience.” 

Ice swimming was an instant passion for Rena, who, because of her ankle problems, struggled with land sports. But in the cold water, she found her niche. “I really love the fact that in the water I am as able as anyone. My ankle doesn't hold me back and I don't feel as broken in the water. It’s actually harder for me to walk on the ice than it is to swim in it,” she says. In addition, the warm friendships she has made while training for Ice Swimming events, including her first Ice Mile in December 2014, “have made all the hard work worth it. I love being part of this. I wouldn't trade it for anything. 

Although that Ice Mile was a huge accomplishement for Rena, she celebrates “every time I get back in the water after a health set-back. It can be daunting,” she says, and she’s had a number of health issues that have derailed training for a few events. “There are times I see it as impossible, but every first time back comes quicker than the one before, and I can remember how happy I feel when I do it.” She says each “ice practice is like a mini-challenge and nothing beats the rush I get after rewarming is over. It’s absolutely addictive.” 

This season, Rena is training to complete an Ice Mile at the 6th Eastern Bay Invitational International Ice Swim on 3 February 2018 in Lough Dan, County Wicklow, Ireland. She completes much of her training at the world-famous L Street Bathhouse in South Boston, a 150-year-old swimming club right on the beach that’s also home to the L Street Brownies. Swimming year-round is an ancient tradition in Boston, so there’s no sideways glances when Rena and her friends trudge across a snowy beach to enter the frozen sea in the dead of winter. 

Rena is actively trying to grow the sport of Ice Swimming in America. If you’d like to get involved or learn more, contact Rena via Facebook or email

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