'That was awesome'

Polar Bear Plunge draws hundreds to Sanders Beach

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Jonathan Burns returns to the shore at Sanders Beach Saturday after participating in the annual Polar Bear Plunge into the frigid waters of Lake Coeur d'Alene. Hundreds were in attendance despite temperatures in the single digits.

COEUR d'ALENE - Yes, the water was cold as a New Year's Eve cocktail, and yes, the outside temperature was just a few degrees north of 20, and no, there weren't any bonfires or warming shelters on the icy sweeps of Sanders Beach.

So did that stop anyone from jumping, splashing and swimming in Lake Coeur d'Alene during Saturday's annual Polar Bear Plunge?

Of course not.

"That was awesome," said Alyssa McWilliams of Coeur d'Alene, wiping off the chilly water with a beach towel. "For a moment (the lake) was actually warmer than the temperature now. Did the Hangover Handicap (fun run) and then came here."

Hundreds gathered Saturday for the Lake City's most popular - and most painful - New Year's Day tradition. When the clock struck noon they barreled into the lake, played around for about three seconds and then sprinted back onto the beach.

The plunge was crowded and festive, but "cold" was the adjective most often heard.

"It was good," said 12-year-old Lille Brott of Coeur d'Alene. "It was really cold though. It was a really fun atmosphere. I kind of hesitated a little bit, but I did it."

And she'll do it again, she said.

Mark Parada came over with his family from Colbert, Wash. He had never plunged before.

"It was fun. It was cold!" he said with a laugh. "This is the first one I've ever done. It was a great way to kick off the year. My whole family went in, so we had a really good time."

Sanders Beach was packed with people. There was, quite literally, nowhere to park. Many plungers endured a long trek back to their cars when the event was over.

"(The swim) was pretty good. It wasn't as bad as I thought it was, until I got out and then it's freezing," said Charlie Kirkpatrick of Coeur d'Alene, who was shirtless and shivering on the snow-covered sand.

The key to a successful plunge?

"Oh, you've just gotta psyche yourself up," Kirkpatrick explained. "Dive under. Then stand up, and coming back out is when you start freezing."

Twenty-three-year-old Sarah Shields grew up in Coeur d'Alene. She has seen the Polar Bear Plunge grow over the years, becoming the massive event it is today.

"It's a good way to start out the new year," Shields said. "It's pretty cold ... it's a little needly, little icicles. I haven't done it for years; I used to do it when I was a kid. So it's grown huge ... I mean, there used to be like 20 people here, tops. It's crazy how big it's gotten."

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