Cold Comfort

Early forecasts call for a colder-than-usual January. The ones to know first will be the intrepid Lake Lure plungers. Photo by Jim Proctor

After the revelries of New Year’s Eve, the next daylight for many of us may be the following afternoon. But at least one hardy group will greet the New Year by taking a dip in decidedly chill waters for the tenth anniversary Lake Lure New Year’s Day Polar Plunge, a benefit for the Hickory Nut Gorge Chamber and the township’s first responders.

“We’ve always given a big portion of the proceeds to the local firefighters and EMS,” says Plunge coordinator Kat Canant, who is also the Office Administrator for the Lake Lure Police Department. (Patrick Bryant from the Chamber also helps orchestrate.) She adds that the Lake Lure Fire Department also receives support from the event. “The Lake Lure Fire Department and the Hickory Nut Gorge EMS have been there every year for us.”

The Polar Plunge had a bit of a shaky start ten years ago, when only 20 or so plungers showed up, and the Hickory Nut Gorge Chamber nearly shelved the event after two years before Canant, who had past experience in organizing large group events, was asked to help. Now, more than 200 plungers is the norm, with up to a thousand onlookers cheering them on from the Lake Lure beach. (The plunge returns to the lake proper after a stint being held in a hotel pool because of lake maintenance.)

With the average water temperature on January 1st hovering just north or south of 40 degrees, some plungers are more intrepid than others, swimming out to the depth boundary ropes in the lake and back again. Others dash in and out, while the more timid form the “tip the toes” brigade to gingerly sample the water. The Master of Ceremonies, Ken Potter, who founded the event with his wife Melody, the event’s logistical coordinator, leads the plungers into the lake at noon while playing bagpipes. Judges give away $100 for the best costume, along with prizes for the oldest and youngest plunger and for the plunger who’s traveled the farthest to the event. (In past years, participants have come from Asheville, Charlotte, and Raleigh, although the event’s official flyer claims “plungers from all over the world.”) To mark the decade anniversary, all plungers will receive a commemorative medal, and extra activities like a fun run and tug-of-war make it a family affair.

Whether full-immersion plunger or toe dipper, participants are carrying on a national tradition begun in 1903 when the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, the country’s oldest “cold swim” club, was formed by a physician who believed regular winter swims in the Atlantic were beneficial to overall health. “I’m not sure about the health benefits,” Canant says. “But some of our plungers admit it’s a perfect way to kill that hangover from New Year’s Eve.”

Registration begins at 10am on New Year’s Day with a $20 registration fee, or register online starting December 1 by visiting hickorynutchamber.org and following the links to the pre-registration page. For more info, see the Lake Lure New Year’s Day Polar Plunge Facebook page or e-mail llnydpp@gmail.com.

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