Sgt. Jeff Klick

Sgt. Jeff Klick

‘Polar bears’ get ready to plunge into new year

‘Polar bears’ will plunge into the Columbia River on Sunday, January 1, 2012

Danny Ferraro isn’t sure what will happen when he steps into the frigid waters of the Columbia River on Sunday.

As one of the sacrificial lambs in the annual Polar Bear Swim at Gyro Park on New Year’s Day, Ferraro was offered up by his co-workers at Ferraro Foods as their man of steel to take the bone-chilling plunge for the charity of their choice.

Although the cause — the Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital Foundation — wasn’t questioned, the end of the means was (if it can be found afterwards).

“It will be what it’s going to be: darn cold,” he said resignedly about his first freezing date with destiny. “I just hope for the best and that it won’t be that bad.”

In preparation for his noon escapade, Ferraro has been standing periodically in the freezer at the downtown grocery store, hoping to acclimate his skin to the cold.

But a better test of his mettle would be Kootenay Lake, offered Polar Bear Swim organizer Cpl. Christopher Buckley of the 44 Engineer Squadron. Kootenay Lake is a cool swim at any point in the year, he said.

“So if you can jump into Kootenay Lake in August, you can handle the Columbia River for a few minutes in January,” Buckley said.

The water is still frigid, with temperatures expected to be around 7 degrees C. And the mass of bodies expected in the water, around 130, won’t be enough to warm the water up either.

But there is company in misery, er … merriment.

“The more people we get out the more fun we can have,” said Buckley.

The dip started 24 years ago when seven members of the 44 Engineer Squadron decided to jump into the river. They kept up the tradition and word of mouth spread while friends and relatives began showing up.

It turned into an annual event, organized by Master Warrant Officer Sharman Thomas until last year when Buckley took over.

The community event invites all ages to dive in, although Buckley guarantees there’s no pressure.

“No one’s going to be there to throw you in or anything — if you just want to go up to your ankles, that’s fine too,” he said.

Emergency service workers will be on site, just in case, and the fire department will have its rescue boat in the river.

The 25th annual Greater Trail Polar Bear Swim occurs on New Year’s Day at Gyro Park, mandatory registration beginning at 10:15 a.m. until 11:50 a.m. that day.

The swim itself begins with a bang at 12 p.m. sharp. After the swim, hot chocolate and a bonfire will await participants along with a pile of prizes to be drawn. Prizes include two Pacific Coastal Airlines’ round-trip flights to Vancouver.

Every registrant is given a free pass for a swim and relaxing hot tub on New Year’s Day courtesy of the Trail Aquatic and Leisure Centre.

Costumes are optional but bathing suits are mandatory. Footwear and extra warm clothing are advised.