By MARC STEWART
Hundreds of brave souls charged into the 40-degree water of Lake Coeur d’Alene at noon on Monday as part of a traditional New Year’s Day celebration known as the Polar Bear Plunge.
Most ran in and out of the water as fast as their legs could take them. However, hypothermia was not on the minds of a handful of people who lingered in the water as friends and family urged them to come back to shore.
“Dude, what are you doing?” one young man yelled to his friend who was bobbing up and down in the lake water. “It’s too cold for that!”
Undeterred, his friend smiled and dipped his head under the water. Eventually he emerged from the frigid waters with a Cheshire cat grin.
Monday’s party atmosphere at Sanders Beach was festive. People from across the Inland Northwest dressed in funny outfits, carried giant inflatable rafts and wore beach attire.
“It’s the closest thing to a Northwest Mardis Gras,” said Chad Bennett, who wore a bright blue wig. “This is my 23rd year doing it. I had to miss 2009 because I was deployed in Iraq. It’s a fun family tradition.”
Bennett, 45, and his wife, Leah, and their four children splashed in the new year with a swim at the 39th annual event.
“It’s a great way to start the new year,” said Leah Bennett, who lives in Rathdrum. “This is my sixth year.”
The pre-plunge psychology was fascinating as people young and old talked themselves into jumping in the lake water.
“You go in, get your head wet and then you get out,” said Karen Bryan, who joined about 30 of her fellow CrossFit friends for the plunge. “This is my fourth year. I’ve never gotten a cold or the flu from this.”
The anticipation built to a frozen pitch as Chad Bennett held up countdown signs and bellowed into a microphone, “Five minutes!”
A couple of people entered the water early, which elicited cries of foul play. Finally, it was noon and hundreds ran for the water. Within seconds, they were back. As their teeth clattered, “That wasn’t so bad…” echoed throughout the crowd, who frantically grabbed towels and dry clothing.
“This is my third year,” said Joe Guzman of Post Falls. “It was awesome. I think last year was actually colder.”