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Dec. 13, 2018
9:13 am


Start a new tradition at Jan. 1 Polar Bear Plunge

By Jane Harrison
Ever pledge to try something new every day? Blair Hickerson has. And the first day of 2019 she’ll plunge right into that resolution.
Hickerson, director of the 21st Polar Bear Plunge at Lake Lanier Olympic Park, hopes other families will join hers Jan. 1 in starting a new holiday tradition by jumping into the cold waters of Lake Lanier. “My two sons are in high school now and I’m hoping we’ll start something new now that they’ve aged out of old family traditions” like sitting in Santa’s lap. “It’s something we can do together for the next 10 years,” she said.
For many lake-area residents, the first day baptism is already on their to-do list. Some, like Gainesville city councilman George Wangemann do it every year. Some dress up in silly costumes (chickens, Father Time, and Super Man) to start the year with a frigid laugh. Show-offs do fancy flips, swan dives or can-openers. Old and young take the dip. The best costume, most impressive jump, biggest splash and oldest and youngest jumpers get accolades and awards.
All participants get a commemorative Polar Bear T-Shirt, bowl of homemade chili, cup of hot chocolate and a warm reception at the LLOP boathouse, where they can also take a hot shower to thaw out. The Lanier Canoe & Kayak Club initiated the rite of passage 20 years ago to raise funds to purchase boats and supplies.
Through the decades, winter hardy polar bears have cracked through ice-coated water, leaped into the foggy unknown and shivered in blowing snow. Other times, scantily clad jumpers basked in bright sunlight with temperatures in the 50s. LCKC had to postpone the plunge in 2016 after record December rains flooded the docks. The club has moved it to the deep channel in the shadow of the Olympic tower during drought years. There’s no way to forecast what 2019 will bring, but its safe to predict that the rainy autumn assures there’ll be plenty of water to jump in behind the boathouse.
“I hope it’s not like last year,” said Hickerson. Snow and cruel cold kept many would-be participants warm at home. The best years have brought more than 200 to the LLOP docks. “Seventy-five would be great,” she said.
Traditionally, participants line up on the dock behind the boathouse and an announcer calls groups or individuals for their fleeting moment of fame. Some hold hands. Others dive solo. A quick splash, a flailing of the arms, and a grimace later and they’re clambering up the ladder into a fluffy towel or bathrobe. Hopefully, they brought those, along with some comfortable dry clothes.
Hickerson confessed 2019 will be her first plunge. “I expect it will be cold and invigorating.” She also expects to have a good hair day. “I am good about jumping in the lake without getting my hair wet.”

Take the Polar Bear Plunge
  • When: Jumping begins at Noon Jan. 1. Walk-up registration starts at 10:45 a.m.
  • Where: Boathouse docks, Lake Lanier Olympic Park, 3105 Clarks Bridge Rd., Gainesville.
  • Cost: $30 individuals, $90 family of 4. Pre-register to guarantee a shirt.
  • Early registration/information:

Posted online 11/30/18
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