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Film chronicles how one man battled debilitating pain by following The Iceman, Wim Hof

A documentary from a North Vancouver filmmaker, to debut with a VIMFF showing at The Shipyards June 22, chronicles a man’s journey from autoimmune disease diagnosis to optimum health
David Gu credits the teachings of the famous Wim Hof, The Iceman, for his health U-turn, documented in John Kelly’s film 'On Fire In Ice.' | VIMFF

In recent years, there’s been a growing discourse on cryotherapy – ice baths, cold plunging, cold showers – as the fix for all manner of medical and mental afflictions. Yet one name continues to stand out among the chatter: Wim Hof, the extreme athlete revered for his breathing and cold water immersion wellness hacks.

The unorthodox methods of The Iceman are as popular now as they were when he first rose to fame around a decade ago, it only takes one fresh story touting another life-changing experience to reinvigorate the clamour around cold therapy.

On Fire In Ice, a documentary produced by North Vancouver’s adventure filmmaker John Kelly, follows the journey of a man undergoing one such experience. The film will be showcased as part of this year’s Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, set to debut at the Pipe Shop Venue in North Vancouver on June 22.

David Gu first started experiencing symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis when he was just 12, but it wasn’t until three years later that he was officially diagnosed with the debilitating inflammatory disease. A type of arthritis, the disease causes inflammation in certain parts of the spine. For much of his teenage years, Gu was unable to walk.

“The first ten years or so were pretty hard, learning how to navigate this pain and the exhaustion. Eventually, I kind of ran out of options,” said Gu. “I was desperately searching for a solution, and that was when I found Wim Hof on YouTube.”

The Dutch motivational speaker and Guinness World Record holder was doing “miraculous things” in aiding those with similar problems, said Gu. Hoping he could proffer some relief from his own malady, Gu travelled to Spain, Poland and Hof’s home in the Netherlands to learn the Wim Hof method directly from the man himself.

Hof is a “what you see is what you get” kind of man, said Gu.

“He’s really himself and just brings this vibrant and youthful energy. He’s got a zest for life. It’s hard to find people, especially at his age, who move through life with such a youthful spirit.”

The teachings Gu experienced under the wing of Hof were eye-opening, he said, and instilled hope for what a future battling with ankylosing spondylitis might look like.

“I ended up coming back to Canada, emptying out my freezer, going to the dollar store to buy 50 ice trays and stocking it so I could do ice baths every second day. It would take two days for the ice to freeze,” he said.

“I started doing breath work once every morning and once a night, and slowly over the next year my body started changing and the pain got less severe. I started having more energy and I eventually even got off my meds.”

Having given him a “new lease of life,” Gu said the Wim Hof method has since become a foundational pillar of his health, and he’s longing to spread the word.

Now Gu runs events, retreats and workshops teaching others how to benefit from the cold and better breathing. Earlier this year he opened Ritual Urban Retreat, a wellness centre in the West End that specializes in breath work, sound healing and heated workouts.

While Gu, who counts Lynn Valley as one of his favourite places to cold dip, could tout the benefits of cold water therapy until he’s blue in the face, he stresses that his driving force isn’t necessarily to convince others to take the plunge. Instead he hopes his experience learning, implementing and then teaching Hof’s method will encourage others to simply look outside the box when it comes to health and wellness.

“I was passively listening to experts and following instructions and never really thinking outside of the box, or exploring alternative options. It was only when I started looking outside of what everyone was telling me that I started finding what worked,” he said.

“If anything, I hope this documentary inspires people who suffer from chronic pain to keep searching for answers, and to have hope that they can get better.”

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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