50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year #24 – Polar Bear Swim

My whole 50 Crazy Thing Adventure started when I told a library patron of mine, Dawn Nelson, that I was going to do the Disney Princess Half Marathon in Florida two days before my 49th birthday. Dawn is an artist who loves living life, bright colours, and big ideas. I love her! She is in her 70’s and when I told her I was doing this because it was the craziest thing I could think of and I was dreading turning 50 the next year, she looked me right in the eye and said, “You need to do 50 Crazy Things in your 50th Year… you need to hit that birthday head on. Don’t cower from it, hit it with all you’ve got!” That’s what started it all… you can blame her!


Dawn and I at the Polar Bear Swim – it’s all her fault!


Every year Dawn drags her husband to Nicola Lake on January 1st to do her own Polar Bear Swim. When I mentioned it was on my list, she said she would do it with me and come into Riverside Park for the Kamloops event. It was locked in stone – we were doing it!

When New Year’s day came, the air temperature was -11C with the wind chill. the water temperature was 0.5C. There was deep snow on the beach and ice along the shore. Go big or go home! This wasn’t one of those sissy Polar Bear Swims that my cousin and uncle did in Vancouver, this was hard core!

I read up on tips for the polar bear swim ahead of time:

  • wear shoes in the water – your feet will be frozen and won’t feel anything sharp so you could cut yourself and not know it
  • take a towel to put on the sand (what sand?) so you can easily step out of your frozen water shoes and into dry ones
  • have your clothes ready – it’s not the water that will kill you it’s the hypothermia from the air temperatures and exposure after

Admission to this informal event was by food bank donation. There were a limited amount of commemorative t-shirts so Dawn and I each scooped one up.

Now we were ready and people, lots of people, started to stream onto the beach. I would say there were at least 200 people there, and maybe 100 went in the water. My mom came, and so did Dawn’s husband, Dale, and my friends Jody and Gerry – mainly to take pictures and make sure it actually happened.

As the people were arriving I saw herons across the river, some pretty startled ducks, geese, and swans near the shore where we would be jumping in. And when I looked up, I saw an eagle fly above us. Seeing eagles is always special to me. It’s like a reminder to pay attention, when eagles are around something special is happening. This wasn’t just a party for people with hangovers who wanted to do something stupid on New Year’s Day. This was special. I was about to find out just how special.


The beach began to get really crowded. An elderly lady with a peaceful expression on her face, relaxed and curious, stood next to us. I asked her if she was here to watch someone. She said no, but she had always wanted to do it and thought this would be as good a year as any. Dawn and I nearly fell over. Ruby, it turns out, is 90 – soon to be 91. She lives alone and decided she would just show up this year and do it. I had three support people with me. Dawn had her husband. Ruby came alone. We quickly adopted Ruby.



I wore running shorts, a bright orange long sleeved running shirt (so rescuers could find me), a pink Disney running shirt over top  – I got it at the Princess Half – it seemed fitting – this was so nobody would recognize me since we all know I have some issues about pink. I also wore gingerbread deelybobbers on my head to celebrate the season. Dawn was wearing shorts too, as well as a Santa hat. Ruby stripped down to just a simple bathing suit.

When the time came Dawn and I held Ruby’s hands because there was at least two feet of ice between the shore and the water and we didn’t want her to slip. The current was strong and the water gets deep quickly on the Eastern side of the beach so I kept holding on to her. I didn’t want her to float away!

I ran in, tried to inhale, and discovered I couldn’t breathe! I went down to my shoulders and we paddled around for a bit before dragged Ruby out. She wanted to stay in. Apparently she has an ice cold bath every day and that’s the secret to her youthful appearance and longevity.

When we got out we all helped each other get warm clothes on. Ruby’s canvas water shoes, her other shoes were in her car, were frozen solid and squished from her stepping on the backs of them. We couldn’t get her feet in them. When she was walking back to the car she stepped out of one into the snow and didn’t even know because her feet were so cold!


When we got back to our cars we made sure Ruby would be OK. I gave her my business card and told her to give it to her family if they wanted any pictures. A few days later her daughter in law contacted me. They were happy we were there with her and were very grateful for the pictures. I even sent her the link of us making (barely) the CFJC TV News!

So, the eagles were right. Something special did happen. We met and were inspired by Ruby.

Why was this crazy?


Would I do it again?

Dawn and I are already making plans for next near! Anybody want to join us?



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