Toronto’s Polar Bear Swim is back after a year break due to COVID

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After a year break due to COVID, the Toronto Polar Bear Swim will be held again on New Year’s Day at noon at Sunnyside Beach, near the Sunnyside Pavillion.

“The reaction when we posted that it was back on was pretty quick,” said Hamilton-based Keith Jolie, the co-founder of the Toronto Polar Bear Club, which had its first swim in 2006.

“So we’re just waiting to see (the numbers that will turn up.) It’s always a bit of a guessing game,” he added. “In 2020, we had about 450-500 people there. We’re hopeful that we’ll see a good crowd. I don’t think we’re going to see maybe pre-pandemic numbers. The main thing for us is that we want to get back to supporting the charity and raising money.”

The designated charity is Boost Child and Youth Advocacy Centre (boostforkids.org) which counsels abused and traumatized kids in the legal system.

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There’s a suggested $30 registration fee, which all goes to the charity, plus, Jolie said, participants can create swim teams to jointly raise donations.

Due to COVID, swimmers must register online and be encouraged to stay masked and social distance on the beach before entering the water.

“We’ve not been told we have to do anything like request vaccine certificates or anything,” said Jolie.

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For inexperienced first-timers, Jolie recommended wearing warm loose clothing over a swimsuit and water shoes — not flip-flops. Participants are also urged to bring someone to help them dress afterwards as swimmers’ hands will likely be very cold.

Some swimmers — ages have ranged from 10 (with parental consent) to 91 over the years — like to dress up in costumes, too.

“The Bearded Villains that come out every year, they choose a costume theme,” said Jolie. “We have somebody that usually brings a replica of the Stanley Cup every year. It’s always interesting to see who shows up in what.”

As for the appeal?

“You get one of two reactions,” he said. “One is, ‘You’re crazy.’ The other is, ‘I’ve always wanted to do that. Maybe I should try it this year.’ But I think people get caught up in the fear of getting into cold water, but they don’t realize the big adrenaline rush that you get at the end of it.”

Jolie says it’s also a great way to shake off a hangover on New Year’s Day.

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