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Despite delay, Polar Bear Plunge goes off without a hitch in 50-degree weather
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From left to right, Jim Yates, Ariana Jeffery, Olivia Nichols, and Izzy Gewin, jump into the lake during the Polar Bear plunge at Lake Lanier on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

Tom Diaz showed up to the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club’s annual Polar Bear Plunge Saturday at the Lake Lanier Olympic Park in his normal attire: a full tuxedo with an emperor penguin mask, a top hat and a cane.

After this year’s event, which raises money for the club, was postponed due to flooding, Diaz, a Chamblee resident, traveled west to take on the Cave Spring Polar Plunge in Cave Spring, Ga. He said he does a few plunges each year, but the one on Lake Lanier is his favorite.

“I was hoping there would be more costumes here,” Diaz said, laughing, with his mask and cane in hand and top hat under his arm as he prepared to jump. “But this one’s unique because you have to know how to swim. This one is the best because there’s the challenge of having to swim.”

The temperature was in the low 50s and organizers for the event said the water was around 60 degrees. The 17 participants, who took the leap from the dock into the water and climbed up the ladder as fast as they could to get out, thought otherwise.

The Parsons family from Flowery Branch was at the plunge for their second year in a row. They are hoping to make the Polar Bear Plunge a new tradition. Ana Parsons brought along a couple of friends who took part for their first time on Saturday.

“It was really cold,” Olivia Nichols said after getting out of the water, a towel draped across her shoulders. “I got out of that water as fast as I could. I normally don’t get on docks that fast, but I did this time. We want to jump again.”

So that’s exactly what they did. Parsons, Nichols and Izzy Gewin took another chilly dip into the lake.

“Why not,” Gewin said. “It’s fun.”

After all, that’s why the family was there. Victoria Parsons, Ana Parsons’ mother, said it’s an iconic event and it’s all about the fun of the family standing side-by-side on the edge of the dock, waiting to leap.

“It’s the anticipation of standing on that dock, not knowing how cold it’s really going to be until you jump in,” said Thomas Parsons, Ana Parsons’ father.

That anticipation was too much for Wimsee Siegel, who was at the event for her first time. She stood on the bank near a boat and watched as everyone else jumped into the lake. She volunteers at the club and said she needed to observe everything before she thought about signing up next year.

“I just love their expressions,” Siegel said as the Parsons family raced back to the dock after coming up from the water in its first jump. “It’s fun to see the people and their anticipation, excitement and watch it all the way through.”

Still donning his tuxedo after his jump and watching others take their jump, Diaz said he was happy he came out to the event this year.

“It’s not as cold as last year, that's for sure,” he said.

After all was said and done, everyone gathered in the boathouse — each one with a bowl of chili in hand, some with hot chocolate or coffee —  in an effort to warm up as awards were handed out.

This year’s best jump went to Elizabeth Clauson and Greg Owen, who jumped as a pair. The Parsons family and friends, seven people strong, won best splash and Diaz won best costume. The youngest jumper was Ariana Jeffery (11) and the oldest was George Wangemann (67), who has taken the leap 19 times.

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