musings, life lessons & poetry from Theresa Jarosz Alberti

The Mermaids of Lake Nokomis

What does it take to find bits of magic in your life? Sometimes all you need is a lake and friends and a desire to move your body. That’s what happened for me.

It started in July of 2020. Many of us women had been taking water aerobics classes at the YWCA for years together, several times a week. We’d become a community who knew each other’s faces and stories, who laughed and breathed hard, and sometimes complained together.

When COVID came along, of course the Y and everything else shut down. As the summer ticked by, one of our members who had been a former water aerobics teacher had the brilliant idea to start emailing to see if anyone was interested in having some unofficial classes at one of the city lakes a few times a week. Everyone loved that idea.

We are dots in the water

I hadn’t been swimming in a lake for years and wasn’t sure how it would be to do aerobics there, but it only took one time to hook me. No chlorine smells! The soft, sandy beach. The navy-blue water sometimes bouncy with waves or mirror-smooth. The ever-changing sky. The wild-life visitors— ducks, geese, eagles, sometimes a leaping fish. Trees all around. The view was always stunning.

And our community, which has always been the best part. We have 39 names on our email list but the attendance on any given day fluctuates from 2 to 12 bathing-suited women. We laugh and sing and take turns suggesting the next move. We’re friendly and enthusiastic, welcoming whoever wants to join. One day a woman walking around the lake stopped me as I climbed out of the lake and asked about joining. The next time we met she was there in her suit, and became a regular.

Last summer we noticed Lake Nokomis started to get noticeably colder when September hit. The cooler temps at night affect the water, even if  the days are warm. It started to be a daily question: how long would we keep going? What would be our cutoff point? How cold was too cold? We settled on not swimming if the air temp was below 59 degrees.

Our last day of the season last summer was September 15. The air temp was 64 degrees, but the lake felt so cold and the wind was high, which meant icy waves slapping us in the face. We all bravely took the plunge, screaming and squealing from the cold that was numbing our limbs. It felt half heroic/half crazy to be in the lake that day, but it gave us a good story and an end to our summer of swimming.

Beach across the lake from us

This year, most of us never returned to the Y because of continuing COVID uncertainties, so we were eager to get back to the lake. Our first swim was May 25— yes, because of our Minnesota winters, we don’t swim outside for 8 months of the year. Our email list grew and new people cameat least twice a week, there was always a fluctuating group of us, and we were always delighted to be together in the water.

I was sad when I went through lymphedema treatment on my super-swollen calves this summer, which meant I couldn’t swim for a month, but my friends and the lake were  waiting for me when I could join again.

Again this year, the lake became noticeably cooler as we hit September. Despite having a lot of temps in the 90s this summer, September was mild and the water had a chill. How long would we keep it going this year? We were determined to make it past our last day from last year, so that was at least September 16. The morning temperatures made that challenging. Our 59 degree cutoff from last year slipped downwards, and we weighed all the factors— was it sunny? Was it windy? How warm had the previous day been? We’d email each other— is anyone going to swim today? There was bravery in numbers if just one other person was going, I could talk myself into jumping into the cold lake.

And so, we did it. Yesterday was September 16; we made it to our goal. We’d built up more tolerance to colder temps this year, so often went when it was lower in the 50s. We were dedicated to swimming as much as we could, knowing that we’d soon have to hang up our swimming ritual for the season.


And yesterday, our goal day, turned out to be extra magical. Seven of us showed up, thankful for the sun that would warm our heads while our bodies moved quickly underwater to work through the cold. We were thrilled  Mother Nature gifted us with a rainbow, and a short sun shower. We saw an eagle swooping over the lake. We were ecstatic about all of it.

Now that we’ve built up a tolerance, the question is what about next week? If the temps aren’t too low, will we keep going? Several of us are open to the idea, so we’ll see.

I want to write about Lessons We’ve Learned from the Lake, but I’ll end this long post and save that for another day soon. I’m so grateful to my friends and the lake for all the experiences I’ve had with them this summer. It’s so good when life hands you some magic in your days.

[Photos by Diane Pearson and Alice Browne; art by me]



  1. Katalin Medvedev

    I was at the first swim. Unfortunately, two days later I fell and fractured and dislocated my shoulder. So, I missed the fun. But I will be back next year. I loved the experience and the company!

    The woman from Georgia.

    • Theresa Alberti

      Oh no, that sounds awful! I’m so sorry that forced you out of swimming this summer. Hopefully we’ll see you next year!

  2. Lynn Taylor

    Loved this post! How wonderful to have these wonderful experiences with other like minded women! Love you group photo and your painting of your group is so fun! I just found out about a water aerobics class that happens in the ocean here on Kaua’i- I’ll investigate more and see if it sounds right for me. One lady teaches and the class is in water where you can’t stand up… but there are some kind of buoys to keep you afloat!!! I give you all credit for doing this and braving some chilly water!
    Here’s to being a Mermaid! Aloha from Kaua’i ????

    • Theresa Alberti

      Funny, we’ve talked about/dreamed about doing a trip together, to do more water activities in a remote location during the winter. Who knows? Maybe Kaua’i someday! Some of us do our workouts in the deep where we can’t touch, and some feel more comfortable being more shallow. Some of those in the deep water wear water belts to help them float, but I have enough padding on my own without that. You’ll have to let me know if you try!

  3. Diane Pearson

    It’s been a fun summer of swimming together. My suit smelled particularly swampy today, must have been the wild winds and rain last night. It won’t stop me from trying to extend our season next week!

    • Theresa Alberti

      I’ve been rinsing my suit and not fully washing it yet, so I hear ya! It will be interesting to see how next week goes.

  4. Mary Koger

    Truly magical mermaid story! Impressed by the cold water. Around here lots of people do Polar Bear Swims on New Year’s Day–but sounds terrifying to me!

    • Theresa Alberti

      Yeah, I don’t have an interest in the polar bear plunge… unless maybe there was a nice hot sauna to get into right afterwards!

  5. Angela Chenus

    You make it sound marvelous and magical, but I can easily imagine the actual cold as it hits you on a September day takes even more courage than you give yourself credit for. This is inspirational! Going bravely into the cold, dark…water?! Fantastic! You give real meaning to the expression, “Life is not a spectator sport.” You also make the case for numbers, even just one more person counting on you to be there is strong motivation not to disappoint. I’ll be looking for a lake and swimming friends locally for next May, our mighty Mississippi has a little too much current and crud to swim in down here. I can’t wait to hear about next week and if you make it one more day; keep us posted!

    • Theresa Alberti

      Thanks for that, Angela! I would’t swim in the ol’ Mississippi either, though it’s 2 blocks from my house. Give me a nice calm lake. I hope you can make it happen next summer!

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