I first became aware of the Polar Bear Club while watching an episode of CSI: New York. At the beginning of the episode, a Polar Bear Club stripped down to their bathing suits, ran into the ocean, and ran back out. It was obvious that it was winter, and I knew from experience that the north Atlantic wasn’t necessarily a warm place to be during the summer, let alone months when people can see their breath in the air. My dad explained what the Polar Bear Club was to me, and I loved the concept: plunging oneself into a nearly-freezing body of water on one of the first cold days of the year and running back out.
Later, the Polar Bear Club discovered a dead body lying around the ocean, and the episode continued the way that every episode of CSI: New York does. I never really forgot about the Polar Bear Club, though. I wanted to join one, but I didn’t know how I would since I lived on the Gulf Coast in Texas.
A few years later, my family went on vacation in Alaska, and I was fortunate enough to meet some members of the Polar Bear Club there. I was fascinated, and they told me about their experiences. Somehow, we decided that we were going to take our own plunge in one of the hotel swimming pools—the outdoor, non-heated swimming pool.
A few days later, I put my sweats on over my swimsuit and joined this group of people outside. One guy had dressed up as a polar bear, wearing all white with a drawn-on a bear face and everything. They had drawn attention to themselves, apparently, and a group of fellow vacationers had come outside to watch the crazy people jump into the thirty-four degree water. I questioned my sanity—standing outside was cold. I couldn’t imagine what the water would be like. When I did jump in, the water felt nearly paralyzing. I swam to the other side of the pool. I was probably only in the water for a minute, but for some reason, I felt extremely accomplished. I’d taken a small risk and felt stronger for it.
I haven’t had many chances to jump into freezing bodies of water since then, but I’m always up for opportunities to step out of my comfort zone and do something a little bit strange, something the Polar Bear Club clearly appreciates. If the opportunity arises again, I’ll most definitely take it.