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Polar Bear Swim draws 97 jumpers into frigid Lake Lanier
Cold, windy day marks Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club's 13th annual fundraiser
Participants in the 13th annual Polar Bear Swim crowd into a hot tub to warm themselves Friday afternoon at Clark's Bridge Park. The annual event helps raise funds for the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club.

Nearly 100 local daredevils started 2010 with an icy splash into Lake Lanier.

The Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club held its 13th annual Polar Bear Swim fundraiser on Friday afternoon. Despite 45-degree weather, with winds gusting up to 24 mph, 97 jumpers ranging in age from 5 to 67 took the plunge, club president Tim Watson said.

Gainesville City Councilman George Wangemann took the inaugural jump, Watson said. This year was Wangemann’s 12th year participating in the event.

Macy Dwyer, 17, leaped into the lake while holding hands with her friend and native Russian, Sveta Morris, 17. Dwyer said Morris cajoled her into the Jan. 1 swimming tradition that is familiar in Russia.

"She was like, ‘Come on, it’s not even cold,’" Dwyer said. "... It’s full ice cold and your heart stops and you stop breathing. I immediately went for the ladder."

Dwyer said after climbing out of the lake she made a mad dash to the nearby hot tub.

"I got in there right away. I ran," she said. "There were like 11 people in there."

For $25, jumpers got two jumps, hot tub access, hot chocolate and chili.

The lake levels were so high at the Clark’s Bridge Park canoe and kayak venue that some of the docks were almost submerged.

Dwyer, a kayaker and Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club member, said swimmers welcomed the higher water level this year. She said she thinks that may have led more jumpers to turn out this year for one of the club’s largest Polar Bear Swim events.

"Now it’s a lot deeper and nicer," she said. "Before it was so shallow and gross. Nobody wanted to jump in."

Watson said the costume and best jump contests had clear winners this year.

Jerel Verner, owner of a barbecue restaurant in Marietta, took home the prize for best costume, Watson said. He sported a speedo bathing suit and had the word "‘cue" shaved into his chest and back hair.

"We had a guy who was 6-9 or 6-10. He was a big hairy speedo guy," Watson said.

Kim and Tom Eckelcamp won the prize for the most creative jump. They wore camouflage and jumped into the lake doing synchronized flips.

Watson said funds raised from the event support boat purchases and club members’ international travel costs when they compete abroad. Nine young club members, for example, represented the 12-member USA Junior/Senior Team in an August competition in Moscow, he said.

Dwyer said the Polar Bear Swim was fun, but the wind was brutal. She said she has not yet decided if she will take the plunge in 2011.

"Maybe," she said. "I’ll have to think about it."