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posted: 12/27/2013 4:26 PM

New Year's Day polar plunges could be extra frigid

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  • Garth Gaskey, 82 of Brookfield, Wis., emerges after taking a cold swim in Lake Michigan during the annual New Year's Day Polar Dip at Bradford Beach, Wis.

      Garth Gaskey, 82 of Brookfield, Wis., emerges after taking a cold swim in Lake Michigan during the annual New Year's Day Polar Dip at Bradford Beach, Wis.
    Associated Press/Jan. 1, 2012

 
Associated Press

MILWAUKEE -- If you've never done a polar bear plunge before, this New Year's Day might not be the best day to start.

In some cold-weather climates, hardy souls ring in the new year with a chilly tradition: jumping into a freezing ocean or lake. They describe the experience as exhilarating and say an icy dip on Jan. 1 makes the rest of the year a lot less challenging in comparison.

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New Year's Day temperatures tend to range from 25 degrees to 30 degrees across much of Wisconsin and Minnesota. But on Wednesday, an arctic blast is expected to send temperatures plunging into the low single digits, with wind chills as low as minus 25.

"If you're apprehensive, take heed and wait till next year," said J.R. Jarosh, 41, president of the Jacksonport Polar Bear Club in Door County. "Make no mistake, it will be brutal. Your hair will be frozen instantly (when you get out)."

This will be Jarosh's 28th year taking the plunge. He says he actually prefers doing them in bad weather because when it's too nice out, friends tease that a plunge is no big deal. Frigid weather brings more bragging rights, he says.

While the event generally draws participants ages 6 to 80, Jarosh said he hopes the range this year is closer to 15 to 55 because of the forecast.

Jesse Holmes, 27, has never taken a plunge before, but the volunteer firefighter from Milwaukee said Wednesday's frigid forecast actually made him even more excited. He said he's doing it is for the adrenaline rush -- and the harder the challenge, the greater the reward.

"I just love challenging myself. Being able to do things that people think are insane is really, really fun to me," he said. "That's the peak of happiness for me."

The coldest temperatures are expected in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin, as well as in a band across upper New York, Connecticut, Vermont and Maine, said Denny VanCleve, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. High temperatures there will likely be in the single digits Wednesday, he said.

It should be warmer in other Great Lakes regions, such as Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, with highs ranging from the high teens to mid-20s, he said.

Some charities sponsor polar bear plunges as fundraisers. Several organizers said their plunges will go on as scheduled, but they'll be more vocal about recommending that participants use common sense when deciding if they want to go through with it.

Jarosh says younger kids, older folks and those with health issues should especially take precautions when deciding whether to take a freezing plunge.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Wisconsin conducts an annual plunge in Chippewa Falls that attracts between 30 and 70 jumpers, CEO Craig Monson said. An emergency medical technician is on hand and the group sets up hot tubs on shore where swimmers can warm up, so cold weather isn't as much a factor there, he said.

For those who despise being cold, it might be hard to understand why anyone would put themselves through this. Why immerse yourself in freezing water just so you can struggle to dry off and warm up?

"It's like any challenging task that you face and then overcome -- there's a certain jubilance you experience when it's over," Jarosh said. "The sense of accomplishment, the high-fives you get when you're done, it's a really good feeling."

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