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JBLM psychologist enjoys the open water

Published: 11:08AM June 20th, 2013
Water sports a passion for JBLM psychologist

Scott Hansen/Northwest Guardian

“It’s very relaxing. Once you get over the fear of fish. The fear is jellyfish ... You work on your breathing and it becomes very yoga like,” said Angel Lugo Steidel, about why he likes open water swimming.

While Angel Lugo Steidel swam laps at Soldiers Field House pool during a recent workout, he noticed a swimmer a few lanes away.

The clinical psychologist at JBLM’s Winder Family Medicine Clinic saw Jennifer Edwards swim lap after lap until she finished a mile. His curiosity peaked, Lugo Steidel approached Edwards to ask what she was training for. Edwards said she registered to swim 22 miles during May for the “English Channel” challenge organized by JBLM Aquatics.

Lugo Steidel knows all about the English Channel because the open water swimmer spent a year training to cross one of the most famous international waterways from England to the coast of France.

“Distancewise I think a lot of people could do it,” Lugo Steidel said. “It’s the cold. You have to be able to swim in water under 60 degrees for a long time. You’re in the water for about 13 hours.”

Lugo Steidel started to train for the English Channel in 2007. As part of an open water swim team in New York he often competed in 10K swims along the East Coast, but to train for the channel required strict discipline and a high tolerance for all things cold.

For an English Channel swim to be validated participants have a set of rules to follow. Male swimmers are only allowed a Speedo suit, goggles and a swim cap. To prepare his body for the cold temperature Lugo Steidel avoided heat for more than a year. He took cold showers, he didn’t drink hot beverages, he swam in 45 degree water and he slept with his windows open during the winter.

“I could take a really cold shower in the middle of winter,” he said.

During that time Lugo Steidel decided instead to get married and the expensive goal of swimming the channel was sidelined. The cost to swim the English Channel is nearly $10,000, Lugo Steidel said. It’s not a swim someone can just travel to and complete. The swimmer travels to England and has to hire a boat captain. The captain determines when the weather is OK to swim. Lugo Steidel knows of swimmers who were holed up in their hotel for weeks before they received the call it was go time.

Lugo Steidel met his wife through their open water swim team and while he didn’t swim the channel, the couple is still very involved in open water swims. Lugo Steidel was born and raised in Puerto Rico where he played on the junior national water polo team as a teenager. As part of the team’s training Lugo Steidel swam open water swims — and fell in love with it.

“It’s very relaxing,” he said. “Once you get over the fear of fish. The fear is jellyfish ... You work on your breathing and it becomes very yoga like. You can go for a long time just relaxed and stop and check out the scenery. It’s very pretty.”

Lugo Steidel moved to the U.S. when he was 18 to attended Cornell University and Norwich University. While he pursued his doctorate at Kent State University, Lugo Steidel became involved with swimming again.

With specialities in PTSD and forensic psychology, Lugo Steidel took a position at the U.S. Military Academy’s Army hospital. While at West Point he helped coach the water polo team and trained triathletes in the pool. It was also during that time Lugo Steidel had the urge to deploy.

“I wanted to learn more of what the guys were experiencing and also to get some street cred,” Lugo Steidel said.

Lugo Steidel joined the Navy and deployed to Iraq. Aboard the USS Nimitz he was the lone psychologist for about 8,000 people in his battle group. After he served four years Lugo Steidel accepted his current position with Madigan Army Medical Center and is in the process of transitioning to the Army National Guard.

“With my training and with what I’ve done I definitely want to work with the military,” he said.

Open water swimming is not as popular on the West Coast as it is on the East Coast, and while there are a couple of swims Lugo Steidel and his wife hope to do this summer, water polo is where his passion is. He joined a masters league in Auburn and every day can be spotted at a JBLM pool training for the water sport he has enjoyed for more than 30 years.

“Sometimes I used to hate to train for open water, but for water polo I could train three times a day,” he said.