Friday, January 2, 2004

Balmy temps lessen the agony

379 join Polar Bear Swim

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Hundreds of people braved 38-degree water for the Polar Bear Swim.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
BROOKVILLE, Ind. - Go ahead and call them crazy. Everyone else does.

Some 379 people and four dogs took a dip in nippy 38-degree water Thursday as part of the annual New Year's Day Polar Bear Swim at Brookville Lake.

The brave souls included a cadre of friends from Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati who, for years, have made the pilgrimage into the deep freeze.

They lucked out this year, though. The 44-degree outdoor temperature at noon was almost balmy, compared to some years when it hovered in the single digits and snow fell.

• Number of swimmers: 379
• Number of dogs: 4
• Air temperature: 44
• Water temperature: 38
• Age of youngest polar bear: 4
• Age of oldest polar bear: 68
"It was pretty warm (Thursday)," said Jenny Kent of Edgewood, clad in T-shirt, shorts and tennis shoes. "Waiting around beforehand was pretty warm, but once you get into the water, it's always a shock."

The 28-year-old former teacher, now a stay-at-home mother of two, is a Brookville native. She has participated in the Polar Bear Swim most years since high school. While attending Thomas More College, she even talked her friends into taking the plunge.

The "polar bears" gather at the spillway that comes off the Brookville Dam - across from Franklin County High School, about 50 miles from Cincinnati. Participants wade or swim across the spillway - about 12 yards - in water that comes chest high on most people.

The polar bears wade across and back in two to four minutes.The loosely-organized event began Jan. 1, 1988.Year after year, people just show up.

Gary Wolf, a 50-year-old newspaper publisher from Brookville, is dubbed the event's "athletic director." He's struck by the lighthearted, carnival-like atmosphere of the event.

"It's like a big reunion, because you'll see people you will only see on this day. Lots of them, you never get their name, but you recognize them," Wolf said.

"They always think we're stupid to do it anyway, and they're stupider if they go watch," Kent said.


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