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Dive and bear it

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | January 2, 2022 1:09 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Doing the Polar Bear Plunge on New Year’s Day with friends sounded like a good idea to Alaina Freed.

Until she ran into Lake Coeur d’Alene.

“It felt kind of fun at first, but after like two seconds I couldn’t feel my legs and I got out and it was even colder,” the 10-year-old said.

Still, were Freed and friends Ashlynn Fassler, Adrianna Barker and ShayLee Gallegos glad they took the plunge with about 500 others at Sanders Beach?

The answer came quickly, emphatically: “No.”

Dad Mike Gallegos, though, urged by his daughter and friends, was proud to do it for the first time, being sure to dive completely under.

“It was colder than I expected it to be,” he said. “But it was way colder on the beach than it was in the water.”

The annual Polar Bear Plunge tossed tough conditions at those who came out for the traditional dip that dates back some 50 years. It was 16 degrees outside, and 33 degrees in the lake, with snow covering the beach.

But none who showed up were deterred as they charged into the water at noon wearing shorts, bathing suits, caps and even bikinis. Some wore costumes, like Superman, Santa and even a gladiator.

Most took a quick dive and ran out smiling, screaming, shivering and holding their arms high in victory.

All raced furiously to towels, dry clothes, heat pads and hand warmers, and a chance to recount the icy experience.

A few lingered longer, like Rob Root, who was closing in on 20 minutes as he stood in the lake, only his head and shoulder visible.

So, when was he coming out?

“When it’s time,” he shouted.

People arrived early to claim their spots on the beach and hold tailgate parties of sorts, with music and beverages.

Joe Guzman wore an astronaut outfit, son Cruz sported an Ironman suit and nephew Landon Vigil was dressed as a banana.

Guzman has taken the plunge for 12 years, often joined by buddies who were running late Saturday but promised to be there.

“It’s just been a tradition now to do it,” he said.

The best part, Guzman said, is how people come together for a good time, even if it means they nearly freeze and can't feel their feet.

The worst?

“We have to wait a year after it’s over,” he said.

Jake Radtke of Spokane is a five-time Polar Bear Plunger and said it’s a great way to start the new year.

The only problem, he added with a smile, is that it’s “friggin' cold.”

Chad Bennett, like clockwork, was on hand with the Polar Bear clock, timer, stuffed polar bears, and sign that read, “I can Polar Bear it.”

He’s been the unofficial timekeeper for nearly 25 years, only missing 2009 when he was deployed to Iraq.

He does it because “it’s different. It’s kind of a fun way to kick off the new year.”

Longtime plunger Ken Martin of Spokane had to take this year off due to an injury suffered in a recent fall, but he came out to encourage friends.

“I’m here for the moral, or immoral, support,” he said, laughing.

Mario and Brenda Spangenberg of Coeur d’Alene, along with Frederick and Jen De Loizaga of Denver and their daughter Genevieve, arrived wearing bright white polar bear outfits.

What brought them out?

“They’re coming to visit. We have to do it, so here we are,” Mario said.

The De Loizagas did not object.

“We’re pretty good sports,” Frederick said.

Besides, added, Mario, with the cold temperature outside the lake should be like a warm bath.

“It’ll be like a hot Jacuzzi,” he said.

Wishful thinking.

Rho Zaragoza of Coeur d’Alene took the plunge for the eighth-straight year. Yes, it was freezing cold, as always, but also refreshing, invigorating and a fresh start to a new year.

“I feel pretty darn good," he said.

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BILL BULEY/Press

People begin lining up on the shores of Sanders Beach for the Polar Bear Plunge on Saturday.

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BILL BULEY/Press

Brenda and Mario Spangenberg of Coeur d’Alene, left, along with Frederick and Jen De Loizaga and their daughter Genevieve, wear polar bear outfits for the Polar Bear Plunge on Saturday.

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BILL BULEY/Press

People rush out of Lake Coeur d'Alene at Sanders Beach on Saturday after taking part in the Polar Bear Plunge.

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BILL BULEY/Press

Rho Zaragoza of Coeur d’Alene smiles while warming up after Saturday's Polar Bear Plunge at Sanders Beach.

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BILL BULEY/Press

Jake Radtke poses by the Polar Bear Plunge sign and countdown timer before going into Lake Coeur d'Alene on Saturday.

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BILL BULEY/Press

Rob Root lingers in Lake Coeur d'Alene long after everyone else in the Polar Bear Plunge left the water on Saturday.

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BILL BULEY/Press

Joe Guzman wears an astronaut outfit, son Cruz sports an Ironman suit and nephew Landon Vigil is dressed as a banana for the Polar Bear Plunge on Saturday.

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BILL BULEY/Press

Polar Bear Plungers enjoy their time in Lake Coeur d'Alene on Saturday.

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