FORT BRAGG, N.C. – Aloha and congratulations to all 468 visitors and supporters who attended the Polar Bear Plunge at Smith Lake Recreation Area, Jan 28, 2023.
Fort Bragg’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation staff hosted the tiki themed event which also included Hawaiian music, hot cocoa, coffee and a warming area. Meals were provided by the Gary Sinise Foundation for all Polar Bear Plunge supporters.
Over 150 participants ventured into the ice-cold lake trying to claim prizes on small floating rubber ducks. The numbers on the bottom of the small ducks determined the type of prizes to be won. Bowling, ice skating, cabin rental, shotgun pass and many other prizes were given to those brave warriors who were able to snatch a duck from the lake.
Plunging into January’s frigid waters is nothing short of the most insane yet invigorating way to celebrate the first month of every new year. National Polar Bear Plunge Day happens every New Year’s Day and is not for the faint of heart nor the timid. Ice swimming is for the bold and daring. Those courageous – some might say foolish – souls who donned swim trunks and bikinis to splash their way into icy cold winter waters claimed they are “freezin’ for a reason” — usually to raise money for a good cause. Then again, there are polar bear swimmers who just like the idea of doing something wild and crazy.
“We haven’t had a Polar Bear Plunge at Smith Lake since 2016,” said James Day, Supervisory Recreation Specialist. “When Hurricane Matthew hit, the storm had damaged Smith Lake for years.
According to Day, the money raised during Saturday’s event will go towards the Smith Lake Recreation Area. When the lake officially opens this summer for Department of Defense card holders and their guests, the Ski Rixon will be one of the main features. The attraction uses cables, instead of boats, to pull people on skis through the water and over challenging ramps and obstacles.
Gathered at the edge of the lake, plungers awaited the countdown to enter the water. Most plungers quickly made their way in and out of the bone-chilling water while others tried easing their way in. A few daredevils threw themselves into the icy lake with abandon - mostly first timers. Regardless of the speed at which they entered, everyone was eager to leave the water and escape the effects of the biting cold on their bare skin.
In the United States, polar bear swim clubs have existed for more than a century. The L Street Brownies, a swim club established in South Boston, Massachusetts, in 1902, participated in the first-ever recorded New Year's Day polar bear plunge in 1904 when they plunged into Dorchester Bay together. Since then, they have been ringing in each New Year with a polar bear plunge.
Scandinavians were taking advantage of ice swimming long before the L Street Brownies discovered the excitement of a New Year's Day polar bear swim. Although it may seem strange, ice swimming is a tradition shared by many Nordic communities throughout the year. A classic outdoor sport in Finland is swimming in frozen lakes via holes that have been cut in the ice. In more than 75 winter swim groups, Denmark has more over 20,000 registered "icebreakers." And Danish people enjoy diving while naked.
Swimming in cold water is said to have advantages for both the mind and the body. Having a cold shower might increase the blood levels of the body's natural hormones that control mood and relieve pain. These naturally occurring chemicals are crucial in the fight against depression. Ice swimming has been performed for many generations in Nordic societies due to seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, a mood ailment common in the northernmost latitudes where sunshine can be sparse for long periods of time. Nordic tradition of a heated sauna followed by an ice-water plunge ritual has been adopted by wellness spas all over the world and is now included on their menu of health treatments.
Regular ice water swimmers say the thrill of the chill increases energy levels and sharpens the mind. And although there seem to be some actual health benefits to skinny dipping in cold water, they also can achieve the same result just by getting a good night’s sleep.
“Smith Lake is back,” exclaimed Day. “This is the Army putting its money where its mouth is and enabling us to provide a multi-purpose location to enhance the quality of life to service members and their Families.”