While it was only -2 degrees last year on New Year’s Day when everyone took the plunge, it may be somewhat colder this year when the 44th Field Engineer Squadron leads the charge into the chilly waters of the Columbia at Gyro Park.
Polar Bear Swim organizer, Cpl. Chris Buckley, proposes to warm things up for the swim this year by getting even more people into the water.
“Our theme is ‘Bring a Friend’ for the swim this year,” said Buckley. “We want to grow every year and this may warm things up a bit as well. ”
This year will be the 28th year for the annual event that has grown from a handful of 44th members jumping into the water at 5 a.m. to over 170 participants taking part last year.
The fun starts at Gyro with registration at 10:15 a.m. New Year’s Day and the official “jump off” at noon.
Registered swimmers will be entered into prize draws after the swim for prizes and gift certificates from local businesses and a grand prize of two tickets to Vancouver courtesy of Pacific Coastal airlines.
“This has turned into a really enjoyable family oriented community event,” said Buckley. “We have whole families that take part, different charity groups, some groups do some fund raising, it’s just an all round good time.
“Even if you’re not going to swim come for the show, we get all sorts of crazy costumes and a lot of spectators. Last year there was around 500 people watching.”
Buckley reminds swimmers to bring a blanket or robe to wrap around yourself after getting out of the water and to bring warm clothes to change into.
Safety for the event is important and the organizing crew will have boundaries around the shore clearly marked to keep participants in the monitored swim area and Kootenay Boundary Fire and Rescue will have their rescue boat at the ready. There will also be a certified swift-water rescue swimmer waiting on the shore just in case anyone runs into trouble.
Buckley says the swim even has its own Facebook page for people to get information on the event beforehand and to post their photos of the event afterwards.
Although Buckley himself won’t be taking the plunge this year because of work commitments he is still encouraging everyone to come and give it a try.
“Hey, if you can swim in Kootenay Lake in the summer you can swim here, there’s not that much difference,” he said. “It’s always good to remember, too, that the colder it is outside, the warmer the water.”