Polar Bear Swim attracts brave students, spectators

Recent snowfall and low temperatures have created enough ice on Occom Pond for the annual Polar Bear Swim to be held as planned.

“The swim is a go-ahead,” said Winter Carnival co-chair Elizabeth Teague ’09.

The swim, which began a little over a decade ago, has evolved into a Carnival tradition, with students flocking to Occom Pond not only to brave the icy water, but to watch their daring friends dive in.

Mike Herman ’07, who participated in the swim during his freshman year, said that despite not being his first icy water dive, the experience was thrilling.

“The polar bear swim was extremely cold, but I had experience doing cold swimming because I once swam in 40 degree water in a cave. I knew what was coming,” Herman said. “Even still, doing the swim was a rush.”

He also emphasized the importance of participating in time-honored events like the polar bear swim.

“I enjoyed partaking in the traditions of the school because I’ve always looked up to the polar bear swimmers of New York, and I wanted to take part in something that would be long-standing at Dartmouth,” Herman said.

This sense of tradition is what motivates many students to attempt the swim.

“From what I’ve heard, most of the swimmers are going to be seniors who want to do it before they graduate,” Simone Stone ’10, one of the Polar Bear Swim co-chairs, said. “Many are like, ‘I need to do this before I leave.'”

Though there have been rumors of unofficial plunges in the past, the Polar Bear Swim at Dartmouth began when Rachel Gilliar ’98 decided to take the plunge into the pond in 1994, without the knowledge of the College.

Since then, the swim, which is now supervised, has grown in popularity from year to year. In fact, Martha Stewart was one of the spectators in 1998.

Last year, the event saw record turnout, with over 200 participants and over 400 spectators, according to former Polar Bear Swim co-chair and current Winter Carnival Council member Alex Kehl ’07.

The 2005 swim was unsuccessful, as it was canceled at the last minute due to warm weather and thin ice covering the pond.

Two years ago was not the only time that thin ice posed a problem. In 1997, parents of several student participants fell into the pond when they went to watch their children jump. Though they were pulled out by a bystander, incidents such as this one have led to increased safety precautions.

“Safety and Safety is on hand and they keep a vehicle running nearby so that anyone who is really cold can get blankets immediately,” Kehl said. “We also have at least one Dartmouth EMT on hand — a trained student that is fully certified.”

In addition, each participant has a rope tied around his or her waist in case they have a bad reaction to the cold water.

The hole carved out of the ice is only big enough for students to take a few strokes in the freezing water, and there is a ladder at the end of it to help participants to escape.

The event is also monitored by Facilities and Operations Management, which reviews the weather conditions and determines whether the event can take place. The final evaluation may not occur until the day of the swim.

As far as they know, Stone and Jenkins expect this year’s swim to continue as planned, and hope for a record turnout.

In preparation for the event, there will be 300 waivers available for people to sign in order to participate.

The Polar Bear Swim will begin on Friday at noon, and Dartmouth Hillel will be providing hot chocolate for all participants and spectators at the Roth Center.

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