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Taking the Polar Bear Plunge


There is a certain pride that comes with the answer to, “Are you taking the plunge this year?”

Of all the winter traditions in Door County, few have a group as dedicated - and crazy - as the Jacksonport Polar Bear Plunge. On the first of January every year, hundreds of swimmer take to beach in Jacksonport and ring in the new year with a brisk swim in the frozen waters.

Long time Jacksonport resident J.R. Jarosh brought the plunge to his hometown in 1986 after a bet gone wrong with his father, Joe.

“In 1984 I bet my Dad that I could beat him in the Sister Bay Fall Fest 5 Mile Run,” Jarosh told the Peninsula Pulse. “The loser had to swim in Jacksonport after the race was over. I was 11 and he was 40 at the time. He won, and I swam.”

Within a few years, the event grew to hundreds of participants, with 2017 welcoming nearly 900 swimmers to Jacksonport’s Lakeside Park.

In more than three decades since Jarosh first leapt into the water on New Year’s Day, the event has seen subzero temperatures and ice shoves stacked like barriers to the water, former Packer players and the interest of Hollywood.

“Like many difficult tasks in life, I feel this is more of a mental challenge than a physical one,” said Jarosh. “I can verify that it’s still cold, but I also know that the smile on my face from doing it lasts a lot longer than the goose bumps do.”

A Few Things To Know Before Your First Plunge:

  • There are around a dozen first responders on site, ensuring a safe and fun event. No one has ever needed emergency care in the event’s decades long history
  • The Diving Reflex is an involuntary response to your face and body being submerged in cold water. It causes your heart to slow rapidly in order to protect you, so don’t worry if you feel like you lose your breath as soon as you go under.
  • While all levels of submersion are applauded, a true polar bear gets his or her head wet. Go ahead, it’s just for a second.
  • If you see a guy in a tuxedo, that’s J.R.. He’s worn the tux every year since the 20th anniversary.
  • Shoes are recommended, if not for your dip in the lake, then for walking around on the snowy grounds before and after.
  • Bring blankets.

Registration begins at Jacksonport’s Lakeside Park on New Year’s Day 10:30am with the plunge at noon. Show up a little early to mentally prepare for a truly mind-numbing experience.

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