Wild swimming is quite the thing at the moment, isn't it? Lately, I can't open a newspaper, weekend supplement or Instagram without seeing people my age wading into lakes, rivers, canals, or the sea. Often in sub-zero temperatures and without so much as a wetsuit, these people happily splash about in the sort of brackish dirty water I would be reluctant to let my dog drink from on a walk.
It's not for me. I'm not a strong swimmer, and the idea of getting weed wrapped around my legs or mud between my toes really puts me off. In France last summer, I made an exception and swam across a huge, bright-green lake in the middle of a hot summer day, grateful for the cool water in the blistering heat. But even in that man-made swimming lake, surrounded by people on inflatable mattresses, I was wary of what my legs might encounter as they kicked behind me. What if I made contact with a spooky creature from the deep?
I didn't, of course. But this week's news story about Lyndsay Kennedy, the 43-year-old woman who was pulled naked from a storm drain in Delray Beach, has renewed my natural wariness of the open-water or "wild swimming" movement.
Kennedy, whose skinny bloodied knees were the only thing visible in the photos of her rescue, has apparently said that she was swimming in canals near her boyfriend's house when she decided to investigate a "network of tunnels". After taking a wrong turn in those grimy tunnels, she ended up missing for twenty days (although it's not clear how many of those days she spent in the storm drain from which she was eventually rescued).
She told the police that she survived by drinking an unopened bottle of ginger ale she found in the storm drain and that she had been unable to find her way out of the network of tunnels she found herself in after her wild-swimming-based adventure. When she finally was rescued - after her cries were heard from the storm drain by a pedestrian - she was so weak that she was unable to stand on her own.
A spokesperson for the Delray Beach Fire Rescue service, Dani Moschella, has said in interviews that it's unheard of for a human to be found in a storm drain. She said the space was too small for Kennedy to have squeezed into it from the street, and although they've been called to rescue pets from storm drains, this was the first rescue of a person.
‘The idea that somebody might be down there for any length of time is disturbing. It’s dirty, dangerous, there’s snakes, rats, garbage, dirt and leaves, anything that’s on the street that washes into a sewer, and it smells terrible.’ - Dani Moschella
Although there is clearly some speculation around Kennedy's mental state - she was on prescription methadone, and her mother has reported that she has had some issues with mental health and addiction - rescuers said that she was "extremely lucid" when she was found. This means there might be some credibility in her tale that she got lost while wild swimming in a canal. Perhaps she really did decide to explore a tunnel and find herself unable to get out again. This idea is the stuff of nightmares.
I mean, I'm not familiar with the way drains and canals work, but if there's even a hint that this could be a danger, it reinforces what I've always known: that swimming in random waterways is a bad idea, even while "wild swimming" is a fashionable craze.