HEART OF ALENE – Taking the polar bear dive on New Years Day with friends seemed like a good idea for Alaina Freed.
Until she came across Lac Coeur d’Alene.
“It was quite fun at first, but after about two seconds I couldn’t feel my legs anymore and I got out and it was even colder,” said the 10-year-old.
Still, were Freed and his friends Ashlynn Fassler, Adrianna Barker, and ShayLee Gallegos happy to have taken the plunge with around 500 other people at Sanders Beach?
The answer came quickly, categorically: “No. “
Dad Mike Gallegos, however, urged on by his daughter and friends, was proud to do it for the first time, being sure to dive completely under.
“It was colder than I expected,” he said. “But it was much colder on the beach than in the water.”
The annual polar bear dive has set difficult conditions for those who have come for the traditional dive which dates back around 50 years. It was 16 degrees outside and 33 degrees in the lake, with snow covering the beach.
But none of those who showed up were deterred as they loaded into the water at noon in shorts, swimsuits, beanies and even bikinis. Some wore costumes, like Superman, Santa and even a gladiator.
Most dived quickly and came out running smiling, shouting, shaking and holding their arms up in victory.
All ran furiously for towels, dry clothes, heating pads and hand warmers, and a chance to recount the freezing experience.
A few lingered longer, like Rob Root, who approached 20 minutes as he stood in the lake, only his head and shoulders visible.
So when was he going out?
“When it’s time,” he cried.
People arrived early to claim their seats on the beach and have some sort of pre-game party, with music and drinks.
Joe Guzman wore an astronaut outfit, his son Cruz wore an Ironman suit and nephew Landon Vigil was dressed as a banana.
Guzman took the plunge for 12 years, often joined by pals who were running late on Saturday but promising to be there.
“It’s just a tradition now to do it,” he said.
The best part, Guzman said, is the way people come together to have a good time, even if it means they’re almost freezing and can’t smell their feet.
“We have to wait a year after the end,” he said.
Spokane’s Jake Radtke has been a five-time polar diver and said it’s a great way to start the New Year.
The only problem, he added with a smile, is that it’s “friggin ‘cold”.
Chad Bennett was like clockwork on hand with the polar bear clock, timer, teddy bears and the “I can polar bear” sign.
He’s been the unofficial timekeeper for almost 25 years, only missing 2009 when he was deployed to Iraq.
He does it because “it’s different. It’s a fun way to start the New Year.
Long-time diver Ken Martin of Spokane had to take time off this year due to an injury from a recent fall, but he came to cheer on his friends.
“I am here for moral or immoral support,” he said with a laugh.
Mario and Brenda Spangenberg of Coeur d’Alene, as well as Frederick and Jen De Loizaga of Denver and their daughter Geneviève, arrived dressed in crisp white polar bear outfits.
What made them come out?
“They come to visit us. We have to do it, so here we are, ”said Mario.
The De Loizagas do not oppose it.
“We’re pretty good athletes,” said Frederick.
Besides, added Mario, with the cold temperature outside the lake should be like a hot bath.
“It will be like a hot jacuzzi,” he said.
Rho Zaragoza de Coeur d’Alene has taken the plunge for the eighth consecutive year. Yes, it was freezing cold, as always, but also refreshing, invigorating and a new start for a new year.
“I feel damn good,” he said.