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Icy dunk ‘best reset button’ for new year

January 2, 2019

Larry Ahlersmeyer and his wife, Betsy, stood along the boat ramp of the St. Joseph River at Johnny Appleseed Park.

With temperatures just nearing 40 degrees, Betsy was bundled up. Her husband, on the other hand, wore a fluffy, white bathrobe with a polar bear embroidered on the back and crocs.

This wasn’t Larry Ahlersmeyer’s first year at the annual Polar Bear plunge. It was his 41st.

“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “There’s going to be an initial shock, and then a couple seconds you’re numb, and then you’re not cold anymore.”

The game plan was to dive in, get wet and run back out. His wife would be watching from land.

Ahlersmeyer was just one of about 200 to take the plunge into the river Tuesday for the annual New Year’s Day Polar Bear event. Hundreds more, including a motorcycle club, stood by to watch.

Dave Bieberich has organized the event for about 20 years, but 2019 marks his 48th consecutive dip into the river on New Year’s Day.

Last year, he was helping clear ice. This year brought more mild weather, but Bieberich said he was looking forward to getting warm at home.

While many might call polar bear plunge events crazy, he disagreed.

“I think the people who don’t do it are crazy,” Bieberich said. “What a way to start a year.”

About 2 p.m., horns sounded, which signaled participants to strip off their winter clothes and bathrobes. Before the crowd rushed in, they sang the national anthem through chattering teeth.

The event itself was over almost as soon as it began, with participants leaping back out of the ice-cold water.

Jean Graber stood waist-deep in the water, her arms raised in triumph. As she made her way to the bank, her best friend, Sharon Colemen, gave her a hug.

“What are best friends for if you can’t do crazy stuff like this with them?” Coleman asked as they went to dry off.

Unlike many of the veterans at the event, it was only Graber’s third year and Coleman’s first.

“It’s actually really cold. It’s invigorating,” Graber said. “Honestly, I consider this the best reset button you could ask for the year. It’s just awesome.”

And just like that, it became a resolution to make the swim a yearly tradition.

“She sold me,” Coleman said.

cstefanski@jg.net

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