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'Polar bears' take the plunge into 2012
Annual event draws 134 hardy souls to frigid Lake Lanier
Jessica Gibbins, 16, quickly exits the water while sister Jolene, 7, waits during the 15th annual Polar Bear Swim on Saturday at the Olympic venue at Clarks Bridge Park on Lake Lanier. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

It's a year-end tradition that sets teeth to chattering.

The last afternoon of 2011 went out with a splash at the 15th annual Polar Bear Swim at the Lake Lanier Olympic venue, sponsored by the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club.

This year's event drew 134 daredevils willing to take the plunge. Though the weather was ideal, with air temperatures around 60, it takes a certain level of daring to brave the 45-degree lake.

Children and adults alike lined up along the dock, some first-timers, others seasoned veterans of the chilly dive.

Emcee George Wangemann gave spirited introductions to the jumpers, wishing them luck in the competition. He concluded the competition with his own dive, celebrating his 13th year of participation.

"It felt good getting out. The water was as cold as it was in previous years, but the air was great. I dried off and felt normal," Wangemann said.

Wangemann, a Gainesville city councilman, holds the record for most jumps, topping off at 40 in two hours.

"I was hoping to win the oldest jumper contest, but some guy was 76 years old. He beat me by a long shot," Wangemann said.

Jumpers were provided with life jackets, a hot tub to warm up and plenty of chili to take the edge off.

Former club president Tim Watson looked forward to announcing this year's winners in three categories: best costume, biggest splash and best form.

"We also added two more for youngest and oldest jumper," Watson said.

Watson was impressed by the continued increase in participants.

"This may be the biggest turn out so far. They are all from Cumming, Atlanta, Alpharetta ... they're all over," Watson said.

Next year, the Polar Bear Swim will become the Polar Chicken Swim, an homage to Gainesville's illustrious poultry industry.

"Everyone has a Polar Bear Swim. This is how we stand out, be unique," said Watson.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the club's youth programs and activities.

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