Friday, January 1, 2010

Splashing In The New Year

While many people around the world were “ringing” in the New Year with alcohol, music, fireworks and traditional meals, there were others who brought in the New Year with a splash. Members of Polar Bear organizations around the globe celebrate the promise of the coming year by swimming in the coldest bodies of water they can find.

In Moscow, where ice swimmers call themselves, morzhi (walruses), instead of Polar Bears, the swims are undertaken in extremely frigid water underneath holes in the ice of streams, rivers, and lakes. The swims in these icy waters are normally accompanied by single digit or below zero air temperatures, making for more than just a refreshing dip. And while neither the New Year’s day water or air temperatures in the hill country approximates (thankfully) what is found in Moscow, or in a great many locations in this country for that matter, it does takes a special person to climb out of a warm bed and jump into some cold water on the first day of January.

Although it warmed up later in the day, at 10:00 this morning in Austin, the air temperature was in the mid 40’s. The water temperature in Austin’s Barton Springs Pool at Zilker Park at that same hour was around 68 degrees. These were the conditions which greeted members of Austin’s Barton Springs Polar Bear Club for its annual rite of passage held on the first day of every year. The cold January swim was not just for members of the club, however, but for anyone who wished to enjoy the invigorating benefits of the dip in the always chilly Barton Springs Pool. Although I did not jump into the cold water myself (as I rationalized that someone had to take photographs and carefully document the event), my wife, very much enjoyed her time in the water.

People of all ages, from children to elderly senior citizens, participated in the swim. Some of the swimmers wore some very interesting, unusual, and colorful swimming attire. While many of those taking the plunge into the water did not stay in for very long, there were others who seemed to be energized by the water and lingered for quite some time. There is no doubt that those who watched the event far outnumbered those who swam. But either way, everyone was laughing and having a great time. I even wished, very briefly at one point, that I had brought my swim suit. Happily for me, however, that thought quickly disappeared as I regained some semblance of my good senses.

The Save Our Springs Alliance, an organization dedicated to protecting the natural water resources in and around the hill country, was on hand to promote the event and dispense free hot coffee. There was also free food available which was enjoyed by both swimmers and spectators alike. The swim today was indicative of most all the events in Austin and the surrounding hill country, with people coming together and having a lot of fun.

And, while I’m sure that many hearty ice swimmers in Moscow, and other colder locations around the world, would discount the “cold swim” at Barton Springs as being too warm to even mention, the local swimmers did what they could with the climate and waters with which they were blessed. And, unlike most of us, they splashed in the New Year, in a healthy and exhilarating way, and had an enjoyable time doing it.

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