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Polar Bear Plunge draws dozens to leap into Lake Lanier, if a month late
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Edward Surles, 14, swims to the dock after jumping into the lake Saturday during the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club’s 19th annual Polar Bear Plunge at Clark’s Bridge Park. Awards were given for best costume, best splash, best jump and more. - photo by Erin O. Smith

On Saturday, 53 brave individuals chose to do something most would consider strange or abnormal: jump into the frigid February waters of Lake Lanier at the Olympic venue.

The 19th Polar Bear Plunge was sponsored by the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club, with proceeds from Saturday’s event to help the club improv its facilities and programs.

Interested jumpers were given the choice between jumping into the 58-degree water and receiving an “I Dared” T-shirt, or chickening out and receiving a shirt that reads, “I Scared.”

This year’s Polar Bear Plunge was set for New Year’s Day but had to be rescheduled due to the “massive flooding” that Lake Lanier experienced at the end of December.

“We would be standing under about 3 feet of water right now,” said Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club board member Chad Copper, indicating a stretch of sandy earth about 30 feet from the dock. “We have had to refund registrations when we rescheduled ... but we have about 40 people pre register.”

Copper said the event typically had a high day-of registration.

Vicky Howell, 60, of Gainesville said the yearly dip had become a ritual.

“I have been doing this for 12 years and it has become a tradition,” she said.

Jim Filhart of Cartersville said though it was his first time taking the plunge, he knew he was going to like it.

“I have been in cold water before. I’m an ice fisherman and I fell through the ice one time and I liked it so well, I figured I gotta do it again,” said Filhart.

True to his word, Filhart along with a few others took the plunge multiple times during the event.

Awards were given in several categories for best jump, best  splash, best costume, oldest jumper, youngest jumper and “best chicken.”

Later this year, the Olympic venue will be home to the U.S. and Canadian Olympic trials for the canoe and kayak events, qualifying athletes for the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

“Anyone who competes in Rio from this hemisphere will come through Gainesville in May,” Copper said.

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