Be bold, get cold

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  • LOREN BENOIT/Press Stacy Benoscek, decked out in polar bear attire, rushes back to the beach during the annual Polar Bear Plunge last year at Sanders Beach.

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    This photo of the original Polar Bear Club ran in The Press when five high school friends first created the Polar Bear Plunge on Nov. 21, 1978. From left: Brian Hunt, Rob Langstaff, Pat Mitchell (still of Coeur d'Alene), Bry Riba and the late Ken Kohli. The surviving members may participate in the 40th anniversary Plunge in 2019. The 2018 Plunge is at Sanders Beach at noon on New Year's Day. (Press file)

  • LOREN BENOIT/Press Stacy Benoscek, decked out in polar bear attire, rushes back to the beach during the annual Polar Bear Plunge last year at Sanders Beach.

  • 1

    This photo of the original Polar Bear Club ran in The Press when five high school friends first created the Polar Bear Plunge on Nov. 21, 1978. From left: Brian Hunt, Rob Langstaff, Pat Mitchell (still of Coeur d'Alene), Bry Riba and the late Ken Kohli. The surviving members may participate in the 40th anniversary Plunge in 2019. The 2018 Plunge is at Sanders Beach at noon on New Year's Day. (Press file)

A Reason for Freezen, Punk Rock Plunge also on NYD

While hundreds of brave souls will dunk into frigid Lake Coeur d'Alene for the Polar Bear Plunge on New Year's Day, volunteers will be happily collecting items for the homeless.

A Reason for Freezen volunteers will be on site to accept everything from socks, blankets and towels to toiletries and shoes. Cash and check donations will also be accepted. Warm drinks and snacks will be provided.

All of the proceeds will go to St. Vincent de Paul of North Idaho to keep its warming centers open this winter.

"We’re just creating awareness during these wintry, miserable days about people who don’t have shelter or a lot of extra clothing," said Barb Smalley, development director for St. Vincent de Paul. "And the Polar Bear Plunge is such a great day and people have fun."

The 2018 Punk Rock Plunge will also take place on New Year's at Honeysuckle Beach in Hayden at 11 a.m.

The fifth annual Punk Rock Plunge will be dedicated to raising funds for Rathdrum 4-year-old Harper Pursley, who was diagnosed in the fall with ROHHAD syndrome (Rapid-onset Obesity with Hypothalamic dysfunction, Hypoventilation and Autonomic Dysregulation), a disease so rare it only affects 75 people in the entire world. Funds raised at the event will help offset travel and medical costs as Harper undergoes treatment.

An after party will be from 1 to 5 p.m. at Mad Bomber Brewing Company, 9265 N. Government Way in Hayden.

Donations will be accepted in person and online at www.punkrockplunge.com.

COEUR d’ALENE — "I kind of shake my head because it's a pretty stupid thing if you think about it," reads a quote in a front-page Press article from 1999.

The comment is attributed to longtime Coeur d'Alene resident Pat Mitchell, and he's referring to a little Lake City tradition that he helped create — the Polar Bear Plunge.

That tradition turns 39 this New Year’s Day.

"It’s kind of neat," Mitchell said Friday. "It's amazing how many people are doing it."

Hundreds of revelers will gather on Sanders Beach on Monday to ring in 2018 with a cleansing cold splash into Lake Coeur d'Alene. People usually start arriving around 11 a.m. and thrust themselves into the water as the clock strikes noon.

"I think it’s just to start the New Year out with something different, something crazy," unofficial timekeeper Chad Bennett said during the 2016 Plunge. "It’s good clean fun."

The Plunge began when Mitchell and four Coeur d'Alene High School friends formed the Coeur d'Alene Polar Bear Club and jumped in on Nov. 21, 1978. It was then moved to New Year's Day, to become the event of organized icy chaos that is now so frigidly popular.

"The seed of the idea was just to get in the newspaper. We had no idea it would catch on," said Brian Hunt, one of the original Polar Bears who now lives in Norway. "I don't know if it started with Pat or Bryan Riba, but it was one or both of them had the idea. I lived on Lakeshore Drive and was on the swimming team with them, so my house was the natural location. Without Facebook, the newspaper was the only way to get 'likes.'"

Mitchell, who was a junior when he and his pals started the tradition, said with a chuckle that his teenage self would say, "Why did people even follow us doing this stupid thing?"

"If I can lead people into cold water, I mean, maybe I should run against Donald Trump," he said, his chuckle turning into a laugh. "I have all these followers going into a frozen lake, and I’m broke."

Jokes aside, the original Polar Bear Club had five members: Brian Hunt, Rob Langstaff, Mitchell, Bry Riba and Ken Kohli. The first four "are still kicking," as Mitchell says, but Kohli died in a plane crash in 1996. 

"I see him when I go down there," Mitchell said, describing how he remembers his friend when the Plunge comes around. "In my mind I call it the 'Ken Kohli Memorial.'"

Mitchell said he plans to be at the Plunge this year, but he might get in before the crowds amass. He said he recommends people wear water shoes because Sanders isn't too kind on tender feet.

"There’s going to be snow this year," he said. "The hardest part is standing before if you have bare feet."

For those who enjoy a little too much champagne while celebrating on New Year's Eve, Mitchell said the Polar Bear Plunge will help with libation-related aches.

"If they do have a hangover, it cures a hangover pretty good," he said. "But don’t stay in the water too long."

The weather on New Year's Day is supposed to be mostly sunny with temperatures in the mid-20s.

The lake? Yeah, it will be cold.

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