The water in the Columbia River is sitting at a chilly 4.8 C, and Corporal Christopher Buckley is getting his swim trunks on to go for a dip while inviting all of Trail to join him.
For nearly 30 years, the 44 Engineer Squadron, 39th Combat Engineer Regiment has hosted the Polar Bear Swim on Jan. 1 at Gyro Park Beach and since its inception, attendance has grown exponentially.
“It started out with seven guys from the 44th who just decided to jump in the river on New Year’s Day,” said Buckley. “We now get about 500 people on the beach every year, with about 150 swimmers. Our record was 174 swimmers.”
Buckley wasn’t so gung-ho about the idea of jumping in the river in January, which usually has a water temperature just above freezing, but after years of excuses, he finally decided to take the plunge.
“I used to think it was nuts,” he said. “Chief Warrant Officer Sharman Thomas tried to get me to go in for five years. I was always giving him excuses like I had to look after the kids, or I was working. Then one year, I couldn’t get out of it. I ended up organizing it and it turned out better than I thought.”
Now, Buckley is a seasoned Polar Bear Swim veteran.
“The water is usually warmer than the air, so the worst minute is when you have to get out of your wet clothes into dry ones,” he said. “I am the first one in, calling everyone in to the water, and I am the last one out to make sure that everyone got out and is safe.”
The swim isn’t just for a good time and a laugh, he says. There are some valuable prizes that will be handed out.
“We’ve got prizes from Red Mountain, the Colander and our grand prize is a round trip for two to Vancouver on Pacific Coastal Airlines,” said Buckley, adding that you have to register and get wet to qualify for the prizes. “I want to see wet hair when people are getting out of the water. It is not like you have to do laps though. If you want to run in and run out, nobody is going to stop you.”
Registration for the Polar Bear Swim is on the day of the event. Every swimmer must be registered ahead of the noon starting time.
A bonfire and hot chocolate will help chilled swimmers warm up.
This year, the City of Trail has also kicked in a couple of freebies for swimmers to make sure they get warm and stay that way.
“They give us passes for the Aquatic Centre for the day,” said Buckley. “Once the swim is done, you can head over there and enjoy the hot tub, the steam room and the pool, but you have to register to get the goodies.”
Swimmers will hit the water at noon sharp on Jan. 1 with registration at the beach earlier the same morning.