Polar Bear Swim participants ring in 2021 by running away from 2020

By Lauren Hunter Multimedia Journalist
Posted 4:00PM on Friday 1st January 2021 ( 2 weeks ago )

Despite some dreary weather conditions, more than seventy participants registered for the 23rd annual Polar Bear Swim this afternoon at Lake Lanier Olympic Park.

In years prior, those registered for the swim have jumped off of a dock near the boathouse at the park into the chilly waters of Lake Lanier. But this year, participants instead ran from the beach area of the park into the water.

“This year, of course, presented the challenges leftover from 2020 with COVID and social distancing,” said Jim O’Dell, program director for the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club. “And so we wanted to do this event in a way that we could be more socially distanced then jumping off of the docks.”

O’Dell said that the overall theme of the event this year was “running away from 2020” to go along with participants running into the water. The beach area of the park was roped off into lanes with bright pink and green tape so that those planning to run into the water had their own lane to distance themselves from others.

In addition, those in attendance were expected to wear a mask until they prepared to run into the lake.

But despite the changes, O’Dell said that he was pleased with turnout and believed that participants were just ready to have some fun. He added that the registration number for this year's event was more than the previous three years combined.

“Based on talking with people, both in the last couple of months and today, people wanna get outside and they wanna do something that’s different,” said O’Dell. “We had more first-timers this year than I’ve probably seen in the last five or six years.”

Along with the Polar Bear Swim, members of the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club, which hosts the event each year, planned a Winter Beach Bash. This part of the event featured a food truck serving hot drinks, heaters for participants to huddle around between their turns and even 2020 and coronavirus-shaped piñatas. 

Following the swim and beach bash portions of the event, participants moved into the boathouse at the park where prizes were given out in categories such as oldest and youngest participants and best costume. Judges were stationed throughout the beach area to watch and take notes as participants ran into the water.

With such a great turnout and positive feedback, O’Dell said that the new event format will probably continue for future Polar Bear Swims.

“It’s a new challenge,” said O’Dell. “I think this new level of excitement and working with the city and working with Lake Lanier Olympic Park to really make a winter beach bash…this is the start of that.”

Rather than jumping in to Lake Lanier as in years past, participants of the 2021 Polar Bear Swim "ran away from 2020" into the lake, as seen in this photo.

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