By Steve Hubrecht

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It’s time for polar plungers to get ‘freezin for a reason’ because the Recreation Adapted (RAD) Society’s annual Polar Plunge is back.

The popular fundraising event has seen bold (and warm blooded) swimmers jump through a hole in the ice at Taynton Bay every winter since 2016. This year’s version of the event promises to be bigger and better than ever, and for the first time it will take place across two days, on Saturday, Feb. 17 and Sunday, Feb. 18, coinciding with the Family Day long weekend.

This will be the eighth edition of the annual event. For the first few years it was held on a different weekend than Family Day, but eventually organizers decided it made sense to have it on the long weekend. From 2016 to now it has grown in size and has become one of the biggest events on the Columbia Valley calendar. The very first plunge drew 60 swimmers. Last year organizers Tanelle Bolt and Ryan Karl counted 270 polar plungers, with a crowd of 500 to 600 cheering them on and taking in all the festivities that accompany the dipping. But both Bolt and Karl said the actual number could in fact be higher, since it was hard to get an exact count with so many people milling about.

“There are always people at the end of Saturday that say, hey we wanted to participate but we are busy on the Family Day Saturday. Do you do anything on Sunday? So we thought, why not?” explained Bolt.

“There are just so many people coming down on the Saturday, it makes sense to expand to the Sunday and make it a two-day event,” added Karl. “Rain, snow or minus 20 degrees, we will be plunging.”

One year it was in fact minus 20 degrees during the Polar Plunge, but swimmers still had a great time, and even fashioned their hair into frozen mohawks, explained Karl.

There will be a hot tub and — new this year — a sauna to help plungers warm up after their dips. There will be bands playing live music, bonfires, skating, hot dogs to roast, a bar serving chilled and other beverages and more. There will also be eight sledges, so that people can trying playing sledge hockey (also known as para hockey).

If you are hesitant about jumping into ice cold water, there’s plenty else to entertain you and the atmosphere is great, said Karl.

That said, he recommends plunging.

“If you want to try something new, it’s a great opportunity,” he said. “As soon as you hit the water, it’s exhilarating. The crowd’s there cheering for you. It’s a lot fun . . . if you tell someone you like to polar plunge, the first thing they tell you is that you’re crazy. But then they try it themselves, they love it and they say they can’t wait to do it again next year.”

Last year the RAD Society was able to raise $10,000 through the Polar Plunge and is aiming to hit the same mark or better this year. The money will go to help RAD add to its collection of accessible outdoor recreation equipment and to continue its efforts to create an accessible shipping container-turned-storage-and-rental facility to house all that gear (the envisioned facility is nicknamed the Gear Box).

The latest addition to RAD’s collection of gear is a brand new electric assist mountain trike. The $17,000 piece of equipment arrived in the Columbia Valley in late 2023 and joins other RAD gear including a para golfer, a mountain trike, an adaptive cross country ski sledge and a hand cycle. Many of these pieces of equipment are the only ones of their type available to publicly rent, anywhere in the world.

Next up on the gear wish list: a recumbent foot-powered bike. The idea to get one came from a woman who wanted to know if RAD had one to rent. It did not, but the request has inspired Bolt to get one.

The Polar Plunge will be at Taynton Bay, just off Kinsmen Beach from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 17, and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 18.

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