Lola Akinmade Åkerström has long been fascinated by ice swimming and how easily Finns submerge themselves into freezing waters. Can she too find her inner sisu?

It’s easily 15 degrees Celsius below zero. Wearing nothing more than a woolen hat and swimming trunks, Dave calmly walks to a wooden ladder—caked with snow and ice—that disappears down a hole. After a few deep breaths, he quietly climbs down and submerges his body neck-deep into the only patch of inky blue water that isn’t frozen over in Lake Päijänne, Finland’s second largest lake. After silently treading for a few seconds, he swims a few feet from the ladder, and just as silently makes his way back out.

I eye him suspiciously. Could it really be that effortless?

Now it’s my turn. I shuffle inelegantly along the jetty, walking barefoot on snow and wincing loudly with each icy step. Grabbing onto the ladder’s cold metal railings elicits an expletive, and as I make my way down, each step punctuated by screams of “oh shit!”, the freezing water feels like little knives stabbing with each advance. It is excruciating, terrifying, and yet invigorating all at once. That initial piercing feeling morphs into needles poking my skin, somewhat pleasantly, like acupuncture.

But I’m not sure I want that stabbing feeling around my chest quite yet, no matter how relaxing. So, after popping out twice to pre-emptively avoid going into cardiac arrest, I settle for two waist-high dips. And this is my first attempt at ice swimming in Finland.