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Rain, tide greet Polar Bear swimmers


Brian O'Connor/ Wrangell Sentinel

Polar Bear Swimmers participated in the annual New Year's Day event. This year's attendance was 53 swimmers, at or near the record number.

If water temperatures typically in the low to mid 40's won't deter you, what's a little rain or a high tide?

About 50 enthusiastic swimmers waded into the sea near Shoemaker Park to celebrate New Year's Day and participate in the annual Polar Bear Swim. For some, the annual ritual is simply something to do on a day when many Wrangell businesses are traditionally closed. For others, the swim marks the start of something wonderful together.

Erica and Adam Tlachac took their first swim together this year as husband and wife, after having done the swim for three years consecutively. They wed in August.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time," Adam Tlachac said, as the couple huddled near a barrel fire moments after emerging from the frigid waters. "Just don't think about it too much."

"It's very refreshing," he added.

This year's event saw a moderate rain and a king tide – a higher-than-average high tide typically observed in the spring – blue lips, the shivers, and lots of smiles.

Participants are required to stay submerged to "shoulder depth" for 60 seconds from the time the last swimmer enters the water. The official timekeeper waved a foam finger emblazoned with the Green Bay Packers logo to mark the start and end of the sixty seconds.

Some of the swimmers are old hands at the event, even if they are relatively young.

Brian Schwartz, 14, participated in his sixth swim this year. He remembers his first swim at eight and not wanting to participate, but he has returned every subsequent year.

"We're Alaskans," he said. "This is what we do."

For anyone out there looking to join the brave and the cold, Brian said the key is to dress for the occasion.

"Wear Under Armour," he said.

Earlier in the day, strong winds threatened the event with even more misery but it had calmed down by the time participants had entered said Clay Hammer, who helped organize the event.

Brian O'Connor

Polar Bear Swimmers eye the water moments before taking the plunge New Year's Day. High tides and driving rain did not deter them.

"Weather-wise, this is probably the awfulest weather that we've ever had," he said. "It's not snowing, and it's not 20 degrees out, but it's that area that hypothermia really likes. The wind was just howling out here earlier."

He estimated more than 50 swimmers participated, a record or possibly a tie with previous records.

"Every year we do this, it's almost insane that anybody even shows up at all," he said. "Right down to the wire, there'll be a half-hour left to our sign-up time, and then all of the last 15 minutes, the place just packs, and everyone shows up."

"It's New Year's Day, and it's the only thing going on," he added.

The winds did force organizers to move a large inflatable snowman into the Shoemaker shelter, which was packed before and after the fateful plunge with swimmers and observers trying to keep (relatively) dry.


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