Just thinking about plunging into the icy Columbia River this time of year can send a shiver down the most valiant spine.
But for over 30 years, hundreds of brave locals have taken the thought one step further and jumped headfirst into the freezing water to start the new year off with gusto.
For Shane Batch, dipping into the cold became an annual tradition decades ago following his inaugural Polar Bear Swim at the river shore in Trail.
“I remember the first time standing on the beach,” says Batch, now a Warrant Officer and Squadron Sergeant Major with the 44 Engineer Squadron and 39CER (39 Combat Engineer Regiment).
He was geared up in fatigues and fighting order (helmet and webbing), but his mind was not so resolute.
“(I was) saying to myself, ‘Shane, what are you thinking?’” he recalled of that day in ‘98. “But being surrounded by 20 of my brothers in arms, I was in no position to back out and be labelled a coward,” Batch chuckled. “We went into the not quite freezing water and I can honestly say, I have never been so awake.
“From there on, I knew this was how I wanted to start every year.”
For the past few swims, Batch had his number one fans in tow until they reached the water’s edge.
“I have two kids, who every year say they are going to do the swim, but they usually chicken out,” he laughed when speaking about his children, nine-year old Ethan and Kaitlyn, 6.
“They both claim they will be participating this year but who knows, when we actually get on the beach what they will decide,” Batch shared. “I didn’t have to do much talking for them to want to participate, they have been to the event every year to watch Daddy go in, so it’s only a matter of time for them to want to join in.”
The Trail military members have been organizing the Polar Bear Swim every Jan. 1 since 1988.
“It has been a tradition in Trail, and as a Squadron of 39CER, I don’t see that changing anytime soon,” says Batch. “It’s an event that our members enjoy participating in and we feel that it’s worth the added effort to make sure it gets better every year.”
The Polar Bear Swim begins at noon at Gyro beach, following registration which opens at 10 a.m. the day of the event.
There is no cost, but to be eligible for the prizes, each swimmer must be registered.
All participants are required to sign a letter of consent/waiver, and swimmers under 18 years must be accompanied by a legal guardian to sign the form.
A beach bonfire and hot beverages from the Gyro Park concession will be available to fight off the chill as well as heated change rooms open for use before and after the swim.
“Once you’ve tried it, you will want to do it again every year,” encourages Batch, though he notes the event isn’t just for those with the gumption to swim. “Even if you don’t want to go in, there’s always people who need someone to hold their stuff and take lots of pictures.”
Alcohol is not permitted, and Batch reminds swimmers to keep open containers off the beach.
Signs will be posted at the entry points and the regional fire department will have their rescue boat on the water.
“We (also) ask that all swimmers adhere to the signs for the entry points as well as wait for the countdown by the organizers before running in the river,” he added. “There will be a number of our members in uniform at the event so if anyone has any questions, by all means, feel free to ask.”