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TUESDAY, JANUARY 2, 2007
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Cool running: Eager and apprehensive Polar Bear Club members plunge into the Tennessee River at Riverwalk Marina on Monday in what they consider to be a cool way to kick off the new year.
Daily photos by Gary Cosby Jr.
Cool running: Eager and apprehensive Polar Bear Club members plunge into the Tennessee River at Riverwalk Marina on Monday in what they consider to be a cool way to kick off the new year.

Taking the annual plunge
Local Polar Bears get into the swim of the new year

By Kristen Bishop
kbishop@decaturdaily.com· 340-2443

The Decatur Polar Bears gave many reasons for diving into the freezing Tennessee River on New Year’s Day, but James Sanfred may have hit the nail on the head.

Does anyone have a towel? Veteran Polar Bear Club members Elizabeth Pettey and Jana Hood are followed out of the water by Joy Bolding after Monday’s dip in the river. The temperature was 40 degrees at the time of their noon plunge.
Does anyone have a towel? Veteran Polar Bear Club members Elizabeth Pettey and Jana Hood are followed out of the water by Joy Bolding after Monday’s dip in the river. The temperature was 40 degrees at the time of their noon plunge.
“We’re all crazy, I guess,” said Sanfred of Hartselle.

Sanfred was one of more than 60 thrill seekers who stripped down to swimsuits Monday in winter temperatures and plunged into the river by the Riverwalk Marina.

According to the National Weather Service, the temperature was 40 degrees when the Polar Bears dived in at noon, but the biting wind made it feel more like 34 degrees.

The cold-water plunge has been an annual tradition for Wayne Holliday, 69, for 22 years. He was the first in Decatur to brave the freezing river in 1985.

Holliday said he jumped in by himself for the first three years.

Serena McCulloch, right, steels herself for the jump into the frigid water.
Serena McCulloch, right, steels herself for the jump into the frigid water.
“It’s awfully lonely by yourself, so in ’88, I suckered some other people into going with me,” he said.

“It’s a lot less painful when you have other people jumping in with you.”

The Decatur Polar Bears expanded to more than 70 jumpers at the start of the millennium. This year saw a slight decrease.

“I thought we’d have a smaller crowd this year,” said Holliday. “This cold weather tends to discourage people.”

40-degree temperature

Though he didn’t check the water temperature this year, Holliday estimated it to be about 40 degrees. Last year, the water was 51 degrees.

The divers leap from the floating docks at the marina and swim toward the ramp. The water is about 15 feet deep at the jumping point.

Initial shock

Jim Herring made the annual plunge a family affair by sharing it with Jennifer and Brian Herring.
Jim Herring made the annual plunge a family affair by sharing it with Jennifer and Brian Herring.
Holliday said the initial shock isn’t nearly as painful as most first-timers expect.

“When you hit the water, it’s like a thousand needles are pricking your skin. It’s really invigorating,” he said. “Every nerve on your skin comes alive and tells you that it’s really cold.”

Twelve-time plunger Jim Perry of Decatur said he realizes many people think it’s crazy but insisted it was good for his health.

“You won’t believe me, but it keeps me well,” he said. “I didn’t jump last year and got sick twice. When I jump, I don’t get sick, so I decided to come back this year.”

Holliday said he didn’t know if there were any real health benefits from his annual plunge but that he also noticed a decrease in sickness.

Helps immune system?

wet5.jpg - 53706 Bytes
Kyle Weaver, 17, of Danville was the first one out of the water at Monday’s annual Polar Bear swim at Riverwalk Marina.
“Maybe it somehow jump-starts your immune system, so you don’t get sick,” he said, laughing.

This was the fourth dive for Dustin Terry, 20, of Danville, who started an annual tradition with his friend Corey Weaver. Weaver has since joined the Marine Corps and was unable to jump this year.

But Terry didn’t have to jump alone. He was joined by 10 friends, all from Danville High School.

He said he has learned to prepare for the plunges over the years.

“I showed up with just my swim trunks and a towel the first year, and I finally figured out this year to bring a change of clothes,” said Terry, shivering after emerging from the ice-cold water.

The plunge was free to all participants. T-shirts sold for $15, with proceeds going to Meals on Wheels.

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