Wisconsinites will be dipping into icy waters but one polar bear club marks a special year. It began 25 years ago when 14-year-old Iowa native JR Jarosh lost a five-mile race with his father, “I remember at the time thinking he was an old man. He was 39. So now that I’m 39, it’s funny to think back.”
Among the conditions of defeat was taking a swim in late October. JR was curious whether he could swim every month of the year. While visiting family in Door County over the holidays, icy Lake Michigan presented a new challenge. The teen took a plunge alone and tried unsuccessfully the next two years to get someone to accompany him. JR finally recruited two others in his fourth year.
In 1996, 100 people took the plunge. At the millennium the Jacksonport Polar Bear Club reached 600. This year they’re expecting a thousand participants on New Year’s Day.
Although polar bear clubs were around in the 1980’s they’ve become more popular in recent years. JR has a theory as to why. “I think there is so much in the world now that is bad news…People just like to have something silly and happy and upbeat to think about.”