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Take a plunge in the lake on New Years Day at this event
The Polar Bear Plunge is back!
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Hunter Harsh, 12, of Lawrenceville, wastes no time climbing from the cold water Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, as his family takes part in the 20th annual Polar Bear Plunge at the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club. - photo by Scott Rogers

After a less-than-polar event in February, the upcoming Polar Bear Plunge is hoping to live up to its name. The 22nd edition of the New Year’s Day event at the Lake Lanier Olympic Park is set for noon on New Year’s Day on the boathouse side of the park.

Registration is $30 per person or $90 per family and includes an event T-shirt and plenty of warm food and drinks for those who pre pre-register.

Polar Bear Plunge

When: Noon, New Year’s Day; Check-in and on-site registration at 10:45 a.m.

Where: Lake Lanier Olympic Park, 3105 Clarks Bridge Road, Gainesville

How much: $30 per person or $90 for family of four

More info: www.lckc.org/polar-bear-plunge

“It seems like the last few years, I think partially because of date changes due to the lake level being all over the place and debris, it’s kind of lost a little bit of its luster,” said Jim O’Dell, organizer for the event and high performance and dragon boat coach with Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club. “So, this year ... we’re actually going back with a theme, which we haven’t done in the last few years.”

This year’s theme is, “Is Your Vision 20-20 for the New Year, New Decade?” O’Dell said the usual awards — best jump, best costume, youngest jumper, oldest jumper — will be given out at the Polar Bear Plunge along with a new award this year for the biggest glasses worn while jumping.

The 2019 event was postponed and held a month later than normal because rain flooded the area and made it unsafe to jump in the water. That made for about 60-degree waters with the air temperature hovering around 50 degrees.

This year, things might be much of the same, but state climatologist said it’s hard to tell.

“Right now, we’re in this pattern of pretty good temperature swings,” Murphey said. “That being said, we are settling down a little bit this week and the next, maybe the next seven to 10 days, with some cooler temperatures.”

Whether that carries through the New Year or not, the water temperatures are what can be surprising.

“Once you get down about a foot or so, it will take your breath away,” O’Dell said.

The delayed 2019 event only brought out 17 participants — a much lower number than the 40 who had pre-registered and the 50 that participated the year before. This year, O’Dell is hoping to be back to a long list of names ready to take the plunge. So far, 11 have registered.

“For many people, it’s just that challenge of starting the year trying something absolutely nuts and brand new,” he said.

The event serves as a fundraiser for LCKC and supports the club’s events throughout the year, and this year in particular is important.

“As we head into qualifiers for the Tokyo Olympics, we actually have some athletes who have a pretty decent shot of going to qualifying events and making an impact,” O’Dell said. “And we’ll be hosting both the Canadian Olympic Trials and the U.S. National Team Trials in the spring.”

George Wangemann’s name has been a constant on the list of jumpers and club supporters over the years. Without fail, no matter the weather or date of the event, the 68-year-old is there to take the plunge. He’s jumped 19 times, so this year will be somewhat of an anniversary for him as he jumps in the water for his 20th year in a row.

He said he’d seen it back in 1974 on Lake Michigan when he was visiting his hometown and thought they should do it on Lake Lanier, too. More than two decades later, the event made its way to Gainesville.

“I’ve often thought that this is a good way to gauge my health,” Wangemann said, laughing.

He only missed the first two years of the event because he said it wasn’t open to the public. A few years later, when he could finally participate, he remembers it being one of the coldest.

“Back then we had a most jumps contest and I had 40 jumps,” he said. “We actually had to shove the ice away and it was snowing that day. It was about 26 degrees if I remember correctly, and the water temperature was probably about 39 or 40 degrees, so it was good and cold.”

If you’re looking for tips from a veteran, Wangemann said he wears short sleeve shirts to work when it’s cold out and takes cold showers every now and then, “but that’s the best you can do and I don’t think that helps all that much.”

“There is no trick,” he added. “You just have to do it. You have to get your courage up, grit your teeth and just jump in.”

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