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Cult of Cold: B.C. barber hoists power of cold-plunges to find empowerment

Leisha MacLennan created the cult of cold
Leisha MacLennan began the Cold Water Cult, though she said she takes no credit for the organic growth of the group. Photo by Leisha MacLennan

By Jasper Myers

A swim in the cold water of the Oyster River on Vancouver Island is how Leisha MacLennan starts her day and has been for more than 550 days since the beginning of February.

Her first swim was July 28, 2021. MacLennan is a barber who owns Black Creek Barber, which she operates out of her house, and began the Cold Water Cult, though she said she takes no credit for the organic growth of the group.

MacLennan opened Black Creek Barber in the summer 2022 on a part-time basis before taking it on full-time in September 2022. Before becoming a barber, MacLennan used to be an industrial climber in Fort McMurray, but when she had her daughter she needed to find something else.

“I had to totally retrain and find something that was suitable for mom life,” said MacLennan. “As much as I love the job it just wasn’t feasible to be a full-time mom and work out of town anymore.”

She thought about heavy machinery before landing on barbering. She went to the London School of Barbering and worked at other barber shops before starting her own.

Taking on her own business full-time, although a bit scary at first, felt better for MacLennan.

“It felt so much better, it makes you hustle harder,” said MacLennan. “I find chair rental and self-employment makes you hustle harder, makes you work harder, because if you’re not doing anything…you’re literally not making money.”

She also wanted to be home with her daughter and family more, and opening her business allows her to do that.

“It’s so nice. My daughter takes the bus in the morning now, she takes the bus home. One time she chose the bus over me picking her up on the Harley.”

She also loves working for herself because she has more flexibility in her schedule.

“When I have gaps in my schedule I don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn, I can go swim down at the [Oyster] river,” said MacLennan.

The first time MacLennan decided to go for a dip in the cold water she took her camera and recorded it. She said she wanted to see how long she could stay in, and then something else happened.

“After having my daughter I’ve been heavier,” she said. “Every time I would see a picture of me, my self-esteem would go out the window completely because I didn’t look like the way I used to look…watching myself on those videos, it gets me comfortable with how I look and it makes my brain go ‘there’s nothing wrong with this, you’re good.’ ”

As she started swimming every day and going out to more places, she found it really nice to find other people doing the same. On Oct. 31, 2022, the Cold Water Cult was born with five people in the water for an inaugural swim.

“Everyone in the group, they’re like magnets, they get along so well,” she said. “We’ve started to arrange what we call field trips because we meet at Saratoga and go there every day…and when you’re there every day you kind of want to switch it up.”

MacLennan said the growth for the group was very organic and there are now groups for Comox, Nanaimo and a small one in Vancouver.

MacLennan said there are days she just doesn’t want to go swimming, but she forces herself to and is always happy she went.

“If I don’t do my swim in the morning, my day is drastically different than if I do it in the morning,” MacLennan said. “I find I’m crabby if I don’t do it…when you go in the water your brain goes into survival mode and that’s the only thing that matters. So depression, anxiety, whatever you’re stressing about just kind of disappears while you’re in there.”

This story is part of the Comox Valley Record’s spring edition of Trio Magazine, which can be viewed online here.

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