Got a Bucket List? Take an Icy Dip in Lake Michigan

'Tis the season for Polar Plunges. Jump if you dare.

Looking to get your heart rate up this weekend? Well, if you want a little jolt, the is offering a chance to jump in the lake with their Leap in the Lake fundraiser Saturday morning. It's touted as a new fund-raising event in honor of the Park District's 100th anniversary, although personally I prefer the more traditional celebration of eating cake and ice cream.

Polar plunges have become more common in recent years, but they are certainly not new. In Canada, “Polar Bear Swims” are a New Year's Day tradition. In fact, there is an annual event in Vancouver that dates back to 1920 and attracts several thousand participants each year. Leave it to those crazy Canadians to start the year off with a dip in icy water.

Here in the US, most major cities now have a Polar Plunge, some larger than others. In Maryland, there is a polar plunge that boasts more than 10,000 participants. But as cold as Chesapeake Bay gets in January, Lake Michigan in February is colder. A lot colder.

Fortunately, this year, our weather has been relatively mild, keeping the lake slightly less bone-chilling than normal. In fact, there were reports of wetsuit-clad swimmers practicing their open-water swims off Tower Road Beach this week. So perhaps this plunge won't be too shocking for the system.

Still, I can't help but wonder why anyone would want to jump in the lake in the middle of winter. For many, peer pressure plays a role. Local athlete and fitness blogger Kirsten Ankenbrand did the Chicago Polar Plunge a few years ago after getting talked into it by a co-worker. The fact that it was a fundraiser for Special Olympics increased its appeal. She assured me the experience was worth it. 

"I was shaking with nerves right beforehand," Ankenbrand said, "but then the adrenaline kicked in. Before I knew it, I was done."

She didn't just dip her toes in the water. Ankenbrand was determined to get her head wet.

"In my mind, it didn't count unless I was completely submerged," she said.

As a result, she's one of the elite few who can put a check mark next to "polar plunge" on the bucket list. 

For those who want to partake, the Leap in the Lake is at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25 at Glencoe Beach. And if you miss that, the Chicago Polar Plunge is next weekend on Sunday, March 4. So now you have to come up with twice as many excuses for not jumping in the lake. Happy plunging.  

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