Polar Bear swim starts new year | TheUnion.com

Polar Bear swim starts new year

For the past week, the media have been inundated with information regarding the new year and resolutions. The most common pledge seems to be to get in shape, either by adhering to a healthy diet or exercising more. I did my part New Year’s Day morning by doing a little extra walking. I walked past the See’s candy box at least three times before succumbing to the decadence, making it my first breakfast of 2004.

While fighting my own demons that morning, other LOP residents were digging out their swimming trunks for the annual New Year’s Day Polar Bear Swim. As I prepared myself to witness the event, I reflected on the fact that it was far healthier to plunge into an icy cold lake than into chocolate leftover from the holidays. That is, of course, unless you have a heart condition. We all know that chocolate is good for your heart.

I waited in comfort for the swimmers to assemble at the lake’s edge, my warm dry car rocking back and forth from the pounding winds. Usually clear lake water was muddled from the turbulence of the storm and uncharacteristic white caps topped the waves. As the starting time of noon drew near, I summoned the courage to step out of the car and open my umbrella. Meanwhile, swimmers were running and screaming with enthusiasm, some clad only in swimming suits and soaking wet beach towels.

General Manager Ed Vitrano and activities director Donna Tracewell were on hand to officiate over the swim. He said he would let the people determine whether or not the swim would actually take place in this extreme weather. It was impossible to navigate his windsurfer to set the normal buoys for the event because of the unusually high waves and incredible winds.

As it turned out, the annual Lake of the Pines Polar Bear Swim took place as scheduled on New Year’s Day. What was different about this year’s swim was the weather, the pelting rain making the bystanders almost as wet as the swimmers.

Ed was surprised at the turnout, considering the “sideways rain and cold.” He summed up the spirit of LOP residents by a heartfelt “wow,” and said he was absolutely blown away by the turnout.

The Dwyer family participated in the race with 6-year-old Quinn Dwyer being the youngest swimmer. He and his brother Bowden, 10, both students at Cottage Hill, were excited about jumping into the lake. Dad Bob went into the lake with the boys while mom Cheryl was on hand to videotape the event.

80-year-old Bill Swenson was the oldest participant and had been on hand every year for the swim. Other enthusiastic participants included two members of the Ramos family – 46-year-old father, Tony, and his 18-year-old daughter, Toni. Also present was friend Jeff Dydiw, 17.

“I was going to bring my surfboard but was afraid it would be blown out of the water,” said Barney Pugh, 55, who was present in his bright red-and-blue Hawaiian swim trunks. This would be the third Polar Bear Swim for Barney.

Nicole Kendrick, 16, was one of at least 10 teens to join the fun, saying her reason for the icy plunge was because it was “something not everyone gets to do.”

Her father, Richard, camera in hand, captured this event he said his daughter would “look back on all her life” She was “creating a memory,” he said.

As a bit of last-minute encouragement, Ed Vitrano offered free breakfast at the Sports Lounge to anyone who could dunk his or her head under the water and stay in for one full minute.

Mother Nature answered back with a final challenge – as the swimmers assembled on the beach, the wind put forth an icy blast with freezing rain and small hail, taunting the more timid participants and soaking the entire crowd.

It must have been the shortest swim on record for it seemed to last about two minutes. The swimmers were in and out of the water and headed for the heated pool to warm up. There was h-h-hot c-c-cocoa waiting in the Yacht Lounge.

Laura Lavelle is a resident of Lake of the Pines, and her column is for Lake of the Pines area residents to share thoughts and information. Contact her at laural@theunion.com or leave a phone message with the readership editor at 477-4238.

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