`It's brilliant. It is like an addiction'

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The Independent Online
THE AIR had a frosty nip as Chris Ruocco dived into water at 9C (48F), writes Oliver Gillie. Every morning, winter or summer, Mr Ruocco swims in Highgate pond, north London, along with other members of the Highgate Lifebuoys.

He began swimming in the pond at the age of 10, when, as a boy boxer, he worked out with the legendary trainer, Georgie Francis, and has been swimming year in, year out ever since. The cold baptism of Highgate ponds has blessed a generation of boxers such as Frank Bruno, John Conteh, Cornelius Boza Edwards, and Bunny Stirling who all hardened themselves in its water under the guidance of Francis.

"It is good for toughening up," said Mr Ruocco, who won prizes in the ring as a young amateur.

The cold plunge gives Mr Ruocco a big lift before he begins his work as a tailor. His clients have included pop groups such as Wham!, Bananarama and Spandau Ballet. Now after more than three decades of toughening up Mr Ruocco does not look his age.

"An hour after swimming you feel a glorious glow through the body. It's brilliant. I have to do it. It is like an addiction," he said. In the winter the Lifebuoys have to break the ice before they can swim.

Along with a few others Mr Ruocco swims year round despite warnings from Health and Safety Officers employed by the City of London Corporation who are responsible for Highgate pond.

Tim Graydon, secretary of the Lifebuoys, warns: "You have to build up to it slowly. I wouldn't recommend cold swimming for someone who does not take other regular exercise. It doesn't matter who you are, diving into cold water in mid-winter is a shock to the system. Nobody can stand cold water for long - you have to get out sharpish."

The Lifebuoys, who were founded in 1903, run a Christmas day race which has had to be cancelled twice when the ice was too thick to break.