Nearly 200 brave participants of all ages celebrated the New Year with a splash at the 22nd annual RDN Polar Bear Swim at Parksville Beach. Registration for the event began at 11:30 a.m. and the swimmers were to be ready to dive in by noon. “We thought we were supposed to just jump in and jump out, but we had to swim out to a rope so it was a little bit of a surprise,” say participants Keith and Lisa Hall, both 49, of Parksville. As they would both be celebrating their 50th birthdays in the coming year, Keith and Lisa decided an exhilarating swim in the -1 °C waters would be a perfect way to begin 2013. The Hall’s wanted to make the event memorable and picked out distinguishing costumes to attend the event in. “We picked whatever we had,” L. Hall says of their unique Polar Bear Swim ensembles. The couple hadn’t previously participated in a Polar Bear Swim but said it was something they would definitely take part in again. “This could be a tradition for us,” L. Hall adds. “We plan to be regulars until we can’t do it anymore.” Some event-goers were not as enthusiastic to brave the frigid waters and attended the swim to simply cheer on members of their community. “It definitely looked interesting but I don’t think it is something I’ll be trying any time soon,” says spectator Jill Baldwin, 19, who was visiting her home town from Victoria.

Hot beverages and snacks were available on a donation basis to participants and spectators of the event put on by the RDN and the Arrowsmith Search and Rescue water rescue team. Participants were advised and encouraged to bring multiple towels and warm winter clothing to change into following the swim as the freezing temperatures threaten the risk of hypothermia. “Search and Rescue handles the safety of the event, watches for signs of hypothermia, and brings people to the first aid center put on by the Parksville fire department,” explains Liz Sahlstrom, 57, organizer of the Search and Rescue’s efforts for the Polar Bear Swim. The Arrowsmith Search and Rescue water rescue team’s mobile station, neighboured by the Parksville Fire Department’s first aid booth, was assembled adjacent to the busy beach to provide immediate care to participants in case of emergency. Sahlstrom added that the annual event usually draws in a large crowd but believes this year had the largest turn out. “Approximately 180 people went into the water which is the most I’ve ever seen,” she concludes. Annual Polar Bear Swims took place all across B.C. including a swim in Vancouver’s English Bay that had 2223 registered participants and drew a crowd of over 18 thousand.

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