Mavis Rossel wasn’t about to back down from a challenge.
The Nelson resident stripped down to her bathing suit and sprinted into Kootenay Lake on Sunday after she was dared to join her friend Ana Weiland for the annual Polar Bear Swim.
“I couldn’t refuse,” said Rossel as she sat shivering and giddy on the beach at Lakeside Park after the ill-advised dip.
Weiland, who fell over laughing as she tried to put a towel over Rossel, said she was surprised when Rossel agreed to participate in the event for the first time.
“We’re just getting old and crazy I think,” said Weiland.
The pair were joined by a crowd of questionably sane people who pounced into the frigid water. The temperature was just minus-one at noon when the swimmers were unleashed, but 35 km/h winds made it feel as though it were minus-nine.
When they returned from the water, swimmers were given chili and hot chocolate while Hawaiian music played ironically in the background.
Kootenay Co-op Radio held the event for the first time after the Nelson Rhythm Ropers bowed out of organizing the swim last month. The station’s outreach co-ordinator Stephanie Myers said her group pounced at the chance to put on the swim, even though it meant plenty of last-minute work before the holidays.
“It’s such a fun community event,” she said. “I mean look at it: it’s New Year’s Day, at 11:30 in the morning, there’s what, 70 people here probably right now just to hang out, drink hot chocolate, listen to Hawaiian music. So we can’t let it go. We’re hoping people will realize that it’s not a free event as much as it seems [like it]. It’s put on by us and cost us easily over a $1,000 to do it.”
That money appeared to be well spent. There were screams of delight as people splashed in — and very quickly out of — the water.
School board trustee Curtis Bendig, who participated for the first time, said the worst part wasn’t actually the water.
“The feet on the snow is the coldest part,” said Bendig. “But the water, I’ve been in it in June and it feels the same. Just as cold in June as it feels now.”
The Star reporter on hand did not have the courage to verify Bendig’s claim.