Conditions don’t get much milder on New Year’s Day than they were at midday Tuesday.
That still gave approximately 100 participants in the annual Polar Bear Plunge a challenging way to welcome in 2019 at Decatur’s Riverwalk Marina.
“Cold,” Jordan Garner, 23, of Danville, said after his leap from the marina dock into the Tennessee River. “This was my first time participating. It was really cold, but it could have been worse.”
Participants of all ages counted down to noon and plunged into the icy river in a 34-year-old tradition. Temperatures hovered in the low 50s, and a slight breeze left the river relatively calm.
Allen Gilbert also participated for the first time Tuesday. Born and raised in Decatur, Gilbert now lives overseas with his family.
“It was surprisingly cold,” he said. “More so than expected, I think. For a split second when you hit the water you think, ‘Yep, it’s time to get out of here.’ ”
Wayne Holliday started the New Year's Day tradition in Decatur with a solo jump on Jan. 1, 1985, after seeing the event done in Rome, Italy.
Holliday said the Polar Bear Plunge has been giving proceeds from the event to Meals on Wheels for approximately 15 years. Meals on Wheels and More delivers food to more than 370 elderly and disabled citizens in Morgan County.
“In those first few
years, we only had four or five people participating,” Holliday said. “Eventually, we decided to do something creative and worthwhile, so we made up T-shirts and started giving all the proceeds from shirt sales to Meals on Wheels.”
Organizers printed 50 T- shirts as the 2019 event’s fundraiser. The entire stock was sold out by 11:45 a.m. and names were being taken for a second order.
“It’s a fun event for a great cause,” James Brookline, of Decatur, said. “It may be a bit cliché, but it really is a fun way to refresh yourself to start a new year. This is my fourth year doing it, and I plan to keep coming back.”
Community Action Partnership of North Alabama, which oversees the Meals on Wheels & More program, took over organization of the plunge from Holliday for 2019.
“We called and had the Morgan County Rescue Squad check on the water for us last night,” said Cindy Anderson, director of community services for the nonprofit Community Action Partnership of North Alabama.
“They gave us the all clear, which we’re very happy about considering all the rain that’s been through.”
Officials with the Morgan County Rescue Squad said the event went off without a hitch.
“We helped four people get back out of the water, but everything went well,” said JJ Richason, who worked his fourth plunge.
Richason said responders are trained to look for people who may struggle with the water temperature when they enter the river or with the current for those who are not the strongest swimmers.
“You can tell by the face of someone having trouble when you see it,” he said. “We didn’t have any of that out here today.”
Madison’s Patricia Copeland was the last person in and out of the river.
“I think I missed the jump by two minutes, but I’m here,” Copeland, a first-time participant, said. “The water wasn’t that bad. It was definitely cold enough to take your breath, but it wasn’t terrible.”