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Polson Polar Plunge tradition continues amid pandemic

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POLSON — This year’s bone-chilling annual Polson Polar Plunge was officially put on ice, but on Friday afternoon, several dozen swimmers unofficially gathered along the boat launch ramp and frosty shoreline of Riverside Park to celebrate New Year’s Day with a plunge into the frigid waters of the Flathead Lake.

“We really couldn’t hold a formal event this year with the pandemic,” said Polson Polar Plunge original co-founder Dave Bull. “So, this year was a loose gathering of friends for a spontaneous swim.” 

Fortunately for the impromptu plungers, air and water temperatures hovered in the high 30s, which was relatively balmy compared to previous plunges with snow, high winds and temperatures dipping well below zero.

According to Bull, pre-plunge water temperatures were a pleasant 38 degrees, while the air temperature registered a shade cooler at 37 degrees. 

“It has been two years in a row that the weather has been a piece of cake,” said Bull with a chuckle.

Even with the warmer favorable conditions, shrieks and shrills could be heard as swimmers dashed into the icy waters.  They dunked their heads underwater and quickly scampered right back out towards warm towels and dry clothes. The crowd remained socially-distanced along the shoreline.

“That was brutal,” said one shivering plunger wrapped tightly in his brightly colored beach towel.

With teeth chattering, another brave participant said her plunge was invigorating but cold. Several plungers waded into the water about waist-high, while others took a quick swim before heading back to the shore. 

Once on shore, participants received high-fives and hugs from friends and family. They quickly dried off, took keepsake photos and rushed to the warmth of their vehicles.

For more than 20 years, the New Year’s Day plunge has been a yearly tradition as an invigorating way to start the year.

“It’s kind of a yearly thing,” said Mark Culp, who had just participated in his third Polar Plunge. “It’s definitely a good way to bring in the New Year.”

Polson Polar Plunge first-timer Alli Kadler said, “It makes you feel really good when you jump in.” Kadler and her veteran co-plunger Sarah Lucero both said the cold-water plunge was a great way to bring in the New Year.

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