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New year, new hope: CdA’s Polar Bear Plunge helps 1,000 people wash away rough 2020

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 1, 2021

AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” blared from a speaker at Coeur d’Alene’s Sanders Beach on Friday, trumpeting a countdown to hordes of shorts-wearing, teeth-chattering people who anxiously eyed the lake’s frigid waters.

Many wore costumes as they braced themselves for the ensuing chill, the annual jolt of refreshment that comes with the Polar Bear Plunge.

The 42nd edition of the popular New Year’s Day gathering added a thrust of relief.

When the countdown clock hit zeroes, roughly a thousand people stormed into the water, many hoping to wash away what was widely considered one of the most trying years in modern history.

This is where the healing begins.

“I thought the water was refreshing, a good start to the year,” said Post Falls resident Billy Vigil, who was wearing a mock astronaut suit. “2020 was bad, but 2021 will be better.

“(The plunge) felt a little different this year. The energy, the vibe and the people.”

They zipped back to shore anew, but still face a pandemic that has led to more than 346,000 American deaths and changed the livelihoods of millions.

Political and social issues from an historically polarizing year still linger.

But Friday’s participants – men, women, children and the elderly were among the joyous morning throng – hope their shivering leap into scenic Lake Coeur d’Alene signals the beginning of a much better year.

Cold dip, clean slate.

“It’s so invigorating when that water hits you,” said Adam Mayer, an assistant swim coach at Lakeland High School.

“I felt like the plunge had a more symbolic meaning this year, with all that’s gone on and wanting to start fresh.”

Some plungers opted to socially distance and wear masks, but most did not. Idaho has much looser COVID-19 restrictions than neighboring Washington.

This year’s T-shirt design featured a coronavirus particle dropping down into Lake Coeur d’Alene on a parachute with a polar bear wearing a mask.

The Polar Bear Plunge – a free-of-charge gathering on a public beach – isn’t run by the city or a private business, limiting rule enforcement.

Participation was down this year but not substantially, according to Chad Bennett, who

runs the Polar Bear Plunge Facebook page and mans the countdown clock. He received several inquiries leading up to Friday.

“I’d get asked, ‘Is it still going to happen this year?’ and I say ‘Hey, it’s not an official event, so you can just show up,’ ” Bennett said.

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