Conquering Fear of the Cold
Wim Hof is considered one of a kind because of his uncanny ability to warm himself up while buried in ice. We don’t have to do a lot of reasoning acrobatics to figure out what makes Wim a likely subject for experiments. His ability to do what no other person has done disproves scientific theories about how much cold a person can stand.
Wim has one mission in mind, and that is to make us all realize how much power we have been endowed. We can, if we put our mind to it, accomplish great things. For Wim, it’s conquering his fear for the extremely cold environment and his fear of heights that developed his superhuman ability to stretch his body’s potential to overcome threats and fears.
Like any other athlete, Wim subjected himself to rigorous training to prepare his body for achieving incredible feats. We could say that Wim is ruled by his drive to prove that humans can do better than what they think they are capable of doing.
Those who are not Guinness World of Records junkies may not have heard of Wim Hof. Right now, Wim is holding 18 world records the latest being the person who was able to stay alive after almost two hours of being buried in ice. Another spectacular thing Wim has done was running a marathon in the desert of Namibia without drinking water. It’s a valid thing to question why Wim is doing all these.
Wim’s “Unexpected” Birth
Wim Hof was born in Sittard, Limburg on 20 April 1959. His birth was “unexpected” in that the doctors were unaware that his mother would be giving birth to him after his twin brother Andre was delivered. All throughout her pregnancy, Wim’s mother did not know that she was carrying twins in her womb. After successfully giving birth to a healthy baby boy they named Andre, she was wheeled to the recovery room only to be brought back to the delivery room after experiencing yet another wave of birth pains. When the doctors checked on her, they were dumbfounded to find another baby in her womb. A caesarian operation was then arranged to get the baby out as the mother had become too weak to go through another normal delivery.
A devout Catholic, Wim’s mother prayed hard for his son’s life. Miraculously, the exhausted mother was able to successfully give birth to her other son without being operated on. Like Samson of the Bible, his mother pledged her son to become a missionary someday.
Wim Almost Died of Hypothermia
Andre and Wim grew very close to each other. As identical twins, Wim perfectly knew how Andre felt even if his brother does not say a thing. Same was true with Andre. When they were seven years old, they built an igloo with their playmates. Unlike the other kids, Wim felt compelled to beautify their igloo by furnishing it with an ice bed and an ice chair. He did that when all his friends and Andre had gone home.
Wim felt a sense of warmth after completing his igloo home. He lied down on the bed made of ice and eventually fell asleep. The next thing he knew, Andre was calling out his name and telling him to wake up. But he could not move. He was feeling drowsy and numb. It was his first experience of hypothermia. His brother helped him up and brought him home to their worried parents. After days of bed rest, Wim was back to his old self.
That experience left him shaken. He felt a sense of déjà vu when he was 11 years old and riding his bike on his way home from school. It was winter and the snow was utterly unforgiving. The boy felt the familiar drowsiness creeping into his body. Unable to stand it, he pulled over a stranger’s house and slept on their porch. By the time he came to, he was aboard an ambulance being revived by medics.
Hypothermia almost got him twice—enough to get anyone traumatized. Wim was for a time afraid of the cold. He was conditioned, like the rest of us, that the body cannot stand extremely cold temperature.
A Book Lover
Reading was one of Wim’s favorite pastimes. He felt drawn towards spiritual writings especially those that tackled Indian faith, such as meditation. When he was thirteen years old, he read a book about psychology. It contained profound concepts that at the time did not make perfect sense to him. He read it nonetheless, thinking he would soon understand what it was trying to teach about the power of the mind. Although the book posed subjects which went over his head, it was instrumental in making Wim curious about philosophy. At a young age, Wim developed deep-thinking.
His love of reading also made him more curious. As soon as he reached the right age, Wim was ready to explore the world and go out of his comfort zone. The first thing he did to realize his dream was to apply for a passport. His first destination was Morocco. Wim hitchhiked his way to a strange place to find his adventure.
Hitchhiking taught him a lot of things. One of them is how to deal with the locals and fellow backpackers. Wim would eventually learn to speak Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Japanese, Sanskrit, Polish, and German through his travels.
Braving the Cold
One winter, he discovered something that led him to realize his purpose in life. It was lightly snowing. Almost dying of hypothermia twice, Wim was not suicidal to brave the cold weather for a leisurely walk outside. Taking a peek out of his window, he was mesmerized by the immaculate sheet of snow that began to cover the streets of their neighborhood. Three years ago, his son Noah took a snowball while they were strolling in the park. When they got home, his wife and Wim realized that Noah had not let go of the snow ball he was holding. Suddenly alarmed that his son could have suffered from frostbite, he immediately checked the boy’s hand only to find out that it was perfectly fine.
That experience came all the way back to him on that snowy afternoon. He decided to go out for a walk to see more of the snow-covered neighborhood. Wim went out prepared, wearing a pair of winter boots and a jacket to lessen the chances of him getting hypothermia for the third time. While walking around town, the memory of Noah and his snowball kept nagging at him until he felt a strong urge to take his socks off and walk on the icy streets barefooted.
It took that bravery to make his purpose crystal clear. According to his book “Becoming the Iceman: Pushing Past Perceived Limits,” walking barefoot led Wim to come into terms with his desire to explore what life has to offer:
"That moment made a monumental impact in my life. The experience changed the way I thought about the cold. At the time, I couldn't understand how, but it changed the way I perceived it. It was my new friend. To me, expanding consciousness is the path to true knowledge. The material you learn from books ultimately leads to an expanding consciousness. That experience finally quenched my thirst for knowledge. I now felt peace within and my mind was still."
That realization triggered his adventure to go from Amsterdam all the way to Dakar Senegal by bicycle with his brother Andre. The two were overcome by the feeling of liberty. They met a cycling enthusiast named Wolfgang. He’s German and like them, had a thirst for adventure. He told the twins about his experiences in the Nubian Desert, something which might have influenced Wim to conquer its scorching plains to set another world record eventually.
They did not make it to Dakar, Senegal as they ended up buying a property along the coast of Sierra Nevada. What Wim learned from that experience though was to set aside fear in order to achieve something big. It was the beginning of his record-breaking legacy.
Discovering a Method to Face His Fear
Before Wim became famous, he worked as a canyoning instructor in the Spanish Pyrenees. To go canyoning, one must be properly equipped. As an instructor, Wim went by the books. He knew that his student’s life lies in his hands and their safety equipment. Whenever they went out, everybody must have their ropes, wetsuits, watertight buckets, and backpacks with them.
For a time, Wim was intimidated by El Huso, a natural wonder he would pass when teaching students about canyoning. It’s a “behemoth” and Wim was terrified just thinking of climbing it. But fear is what motivates Wim. So one fine day while walking the terrains of the canyon alone, he closely examined El Huso. Like what he did walking on the snowy road in Amsterdam, he began to envision himself doing the extraordinary—climbing the monolith without any equipment but his bare hands and able legs.
Right then and there, he felt fear creeping in. It only validated that he was doing the right thing. Feeling ready for another adventure, Wim started physically preparing for his climb. He did pushups on his fingertips to strengthen his grip. While doing that, he also began to put his mind into it. But the body has different ways of interpreting fear. He had terrible dreams of falling while climbing El Huso. Instead of losing heart, Wim strengthened his resolve.
In his book, Wim explains how he views fear:
"Fear does not go away by itself. You have to confront your fear, mold it, then learn to control it in its own irrational reality. Every human being has the power to do just that. To go deep within and confront your inner being is a powerful act. Going deep and developing the will power is the only way."
He overcame his fear and was able to climb El Huso without any rope or harness. It was another remarkable achievement. Two years after that, he had his photographer friend, Henry Boogert, cover his ascent to El Huso. Everything was going well until he “developed a cramp in his right calf.” The cramp was so bad he was tempted to let go and face death. But Wim ended up doing something unexpected:
"Out of options, I tried something new. I tried to think my cramp away. Visualizing the part of my leg that was throbbing, I began to loosen that area in my mind. Soon enough, the muscle in my leg began to relax. For the first time ever, I realized that I could consciously think away a muscle cramp. I believe it was a direct result of knowing the body with my mind."
Earlier, after his first wife died leaving him with four children to feed, Wim succumbed to depression and contracted pneumonia. He tells an account of how he overcame his sickness in his book:
"At that moment, I decided to go see a doctor. He told me that I was suffering from a severe case of pneumonia and prescribed an antibiotic. He told me that I should be healed in about a month. I took one capsule and immediately felt better. Once I got that feeling, I wanted to take over the healing process. So that one capsule was the last one I ever took. I grabbed a hold of the wheel and visualized myself getting better. Before I knew it, the pneumonia had left as fast as it had come."
Using Tummo Meditation
Wim was unstoppable after learning how to conquer pain by thinking it away. He discovered his talent of surviving in the cold when he decided to take a dip in the ice-cold water pool at the park. No one was swimming for fear of hypothermia. So, Wim had the pool for himself. He used it as a training ground in channeling heat up his body by Tummo meditation. Since overcoming two of his fears—height and cold—Wim found a new hobby: swimming in the ice-cold water half-naked.
News about the Ice Man Picked Up by Media
His talent for braving the cold became a national sensation after he was featured in a local newspaper. For its winter edition, the newspaper covered people whose jobs made them get used to the cold. His story spread like wildfire. In ten days, Wim had several TV crews knocking on his door pleading for an interview. In one of his interviews, he was made to do a demo of swimming in ice-cold water, which he did quite fantastically. Then something unexpected happened:
"As the camera crew was packing up, I began to put on my clothes. I glanced out over the lake and saw a man walking in the middle of the ice. A moment later, the ice started to crack below his feet and he fell through! Since it was windy that day, a lot of the ice was not equally thick around the lake. Apparently, this man didn't know that.
Everyone around me just stood and watched; no one did anything to help. The man was struggling and couldn't get himself out of the hole. Every time he tried to pull himself out, the ice would break beneath him. Half-dressed, I sprinted toward the man in peril. He was about 100 meters out. As soon as I reached him, I offered my hand to help pull him out. Just as we grasped hands, the ice cracked beneath me and I too fell through.
It caught me off guard, but I did not panic. I wanted to remain calm in the presence of this anxious-looking man. I started talking to him in an attempt to calm him down. I thought this would help bring him back to his senses. I said, "I am going to push you up onto the ice, but you have to equally divide the weight of your body so the ice doesn't break again." He followed my instructions obediently as I pushed him onto the ice. When all was said and done, he ended up suffering from only a mild case of hypothermia, but at least he was safe and had done no serious damage.”(Source: “Becoming the Iceman: Pushing Past Perceived Limits”)
He was then given the name Iceman because of his heroic act. It became clear that his mother’s will was starting to get realized. He’s become more than an ordinary citizen—he is now esteemed as a “hero.”
Before he embarked on an adventure in Tibet, a doctor tested him and warned him that going on extreme adventures like hiking without appropriate gears would only endanger his life. He did not listen to the doctor and went on to his Tibet adventure. Wim was able to go back alive.
Wim’s popularity soon grew and he was all over magazines and TV shows. Experts and extreme sports enthusiasts agree that Wim has an overflowing supply of dopamine and adrenaline.
A Demo Accident
One of the magazines that did a cover on him discussed the matter thoroughly and a famous presenter, Willibrord Frequin, soon heard of the adventures of the Iceman. His interview with Willibrord Frequin intrigued more TV producers. They were then invited to do a stint of swimming under the ice in the Netherlands.
After getting acquainted with the water, Wim was ready to take the challenge. But accidents do happen unexpectedly. He almost drowned after losing his way while swimming underneath the thick ice. Jari, one of the crew members, had the initiative to pull him out of the water. After apprehending the production team for their lack of safety measures, he completed the challenge on his second attempt.
Surviving Another Demo Accident: Frost Bite
But his TV guesting soon dwindled and he needed to find other ways to earn money. It was during the time he was working as a postman that the Discovery Channel offered him another challenge—doing half marathon across Lapland, Finland where winter temperature could drop as low as -53 degrees Fahrenheit.
That’s when he met Professor Oksa of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. The renowned doctor took his vital signs and subjected him to a rigid test to measure how his body copes with the cold. The tests yielded favorable results. Before long, Wim left with the crew to Kolari Lapland where he ran barefooted in -22 degrees Fahrenheit. He almost gave up due to a severe case of frostbite.
He made it to the finish line though after ignoring the advice of their team’s dermatologist. The challenge kept him bedridden for months. Doctors warned him not to “get his feet wet.” Wim was also told that he could kiss his adventures goodbye as the frostbite was so severe that they could not guarantee if he would be able to even walk again. Against doctors’ orders, Wim had a friend buy him cow balm—a kind of ointment applied on a “cow's irritated udders.” In a month’s time, his feet were completely healed enabling him to be on schedule for his Everest Climb.
His team began their ascent on 1 April 2007 to Mount Everest with Wim wearing only a pair of shoes and shorts. Unfortunately, Wim was not able to complete the trek because of a foot injury.
Wim Hof’s Method
When he got back, he started doing live shows demonstrating his ability to stay buried in ice for a remarkable length of time without the risk of getting hypothermia or even gasping for air. Wim made swimming in ice akin to getting a warm bath. Time after time, he broke records he himself had made. To date, his longest record is one hour and 52 minutes of staying buried in ice with only his head showing.
It did not take long before Wim got the attention of the medical industry. There have been talks of using extremely cold water to counter diseases. According to his website, the following are some benefits of Wim’s methods:
• Influence on the immune system
• Influence on your mind
• Improvement of blood circulation
• Improvement of concentration and targeting
• A greater confidence and a conscious development
(Source: Iceman Wim Hof)
Wim was soon tested by Dr. Kevin Tracey to find out how his body does the unexpected. It was proven that his methods helped him maintain his core heat, enabling him to withstand extremely cold environments. Indeed, he was telling the truth about making the body follow the mind. Ecstatic to tell his mother about the news, his heart was crushed upon hearing about her death. It was a bittersweet moment for Wim.
Publishing “Becoming the Iceman: Pushing Past Perceived Limits” Book
He knew that he has gained the respect of the people from the science industry which made him a legitimate endorser of using meditation to handle extreme temperature. On the other hand, his mother was no longer there to witness his ministry flourish.
He channeled his hurt to something positive. In 2009, he successfully conquered Mount Kilimanjaro, wearing nothing but shoes and shorts. In the same year, Wim went back to Lapland to complete a full marathon. He has gotten stronger. Two years later, he published the book “Becoming the Iceman: Pushing Past Perceived Limits.”
Columbia Sportwear Ad YouTube Videos
Wim Hof was featured in an advertisement for Columbia Sportwear called Columbia Omni-Heat Electric as the man who need not wear the clothing contraption having been subjected to "brutal training." It offered an interesting angle on Wim Hof's legendary claim to fame as the only man alive who could withstand extremely cold environment. For behind-the-scenes of the ad, you may watch YouTube videos compiled here: Theinspirationroom.com
Is the Ice Man on a Special Diet?
The answer to that, believe it or not, is no. When he was interviewed by bengreenfielfitness.com along with other athletes to find out what their secret diet is behind their super human "strength" and "ability," he answered:
“I do not follow any Diet. I eat when I feel hungry. But I am in connection with body and mind. So when I am in connection, I can eat whatever I want… but I will always eat what I feel to eat.
Normally I eat once a day, in the afternoon when I feel a bit hungry… vegetarian food. But when I do a world record, I eat a lot of food in the morning before the attempt. This is because I need energy to be able to raise my metabolism. I have shown a 300% increase in my metabolism while emerged in ice.”
The Wim Hof Foundation
What keeps Wim busy now are his talks and the Wim Hof Foundation he established that aims to raise “funds to support scientific research into the control of the immune system by using physiology alone (as opposed to medication). The goal is to develop scientifically proven methods to fight against auto-immune and infectious disease” (source: Iceman Wim Hof).
Who would have thought his penchant for conquering the impossible would eventually benefit mankind? Wim does the impossible because he sees something unseen by most of us—countless opportunities to make a difference, and in the process, be able to help others.
Organisations and Campaigns Supported
- Global Warming Ambassador
- Becoming the Iceman Project
- Wim Hof Foundation
- 2008: Broke his previous record
- 2009: Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro within two days wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and shoes
- 2009: Completed a full marathon in Finland wearing nothing but a pair of shorts
- 2010: Stood on ice for one hour and 44 minutes
- 2011: He broke his own record in February and November; was able to stand on ice for 1 hour and 52 minutes and 42 seconds
- 2011: Published Becoming the Iceman with Aaron Pierskalla
- 2011: Completed a marathon in Namibia Desert without drinking water
- 2012: Appeared in the program Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files
- Possesses 18 World Records