Polar bear plunges bring out newspaper columnist’s frigid personality

A trio of brave souls jumps off the pier at the Lighthouse, the location of Shawano’s Polar Bear Plunge. The temperature was just above zero, but there was a wind chill that made it feel like -20 degrees. (Photo by Lee Pulaski)

How many of you have participated in a Polar Bear Plunge? For those of you who haven’t even heard of the concept, it involves jumping into frigid water in the dead of winter. It’s a tradition in many Wisconsin communities.

For those of you who love to participate in the plunge, I’ve got something to tell you. There’s a newspaper columnist in Arizona who thinks y’all are nuts.

I was perusing the pages of my hometown’s daily paper, The Daily Courier, this afternoon, and Judy Bluhm (not to be confused with Judy Blume, who wrote Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and other beloved children’s books) chose to use her platform to express her distaste for polar bear plunges and even going so far as to insult a former Wisconsin resident to his face. Here’s an excerpt:

“It must be a pretty dull world to have to become ‘invigorated’ by joining the elite ranks of polar bears. There is an entire set of rules that experienced polar bears have to follow, if they want to survive. A man emailed me to say that he joined in the ‘fun’ when he lived in Wisconsin and once a year, during the first snow after Thanksgiving, at high noon, he would make the trek into the freezing Lake Michigan waters with about a thousand other ‘enthusiasts.’ I asked our local polar bear if he suffered from mental issues. He didn’t seem amused.”

I can’t imagine why the man wasn’t amused. She only insulted his sanity to his face and pointed out that he must be dull for going swimming in the dead of winter. Why would anyone think that wasn’t the biggest laugh riot since Donald Trump said his nuclear button is bigger than Kim Jong Un’s?

I wonder if Bluhm’s ever really done any research on polar bear plunges. Perhaps if she relied on more than the strange images in her head, she might realize that the “enthusiasts” she spent several hundred words mocking might also be diving into frigid waters for more than just a thrill.

I know first hand that Shawano’s Polar Bear Plunge on New Year’s Day raises money for our local humane society. People are taking a dip into frozen liquid to help animals in need, and they’ve been doing it for 18 years. Perhaps Bluhm has some better ideas, like a $100 a plate dinner that many can’t afford to participate in.

Another trio of plungers at Shawano’s Polar Bear Plunge decided to dress up like tourists, just to add a little fun to their jump. (Photo by Lee Pulaski)

I Googled “Wisconsin Polar Bear Plunge” and discovered that a number of the plunges around the state are done to benefit Special Olympics. This year’s goal is $900,000, and so far, $100,000 has been raised. Maybe we should take Bluhm’s advice and stop now. After all, why should disabled people be allowed to have fun and take part in a competition?

There are plenty of folks who do it just for the fun of it. Take Jacksonport, a community over in Door County. There’s a Polar Bear Club that’s been taking the plunge since 1986. Who wants to take bets to see if Bluhm plans to book her next vacation in Jacksonport?

I wish I could say I was surprised at her attitude, but then again, this is the same person who cackled last June when she wrote a column about words people have trouble spelling and found out some Wisconsin residents can’t spell “Wisconsin.” Her negativity could explain why her column runs on a Monday—a day when newspapers are less likely to be read—and that it runs after the comics page.

If you’d like another touch of irony, in the same newspaper, there was a story on A1 about the local polar bear plunge in Prescott Valley, where folks braved the 47-degree temperatures to jump in the water. So, I guess it’s not just Wisconsin folks who suffer from what Bluhm described as “mental issues.” I’m guessing she didn’t attend.

Shawano resident Lucas Hacker was the first to dive in during the 2018 Polar Bear Plunge in Shawano. Judy Bluhm would probably recommend a rubber room and a strait jacket for him. (Photo by Lee Pulaski)

It can be easy to turn your nose up at customs you don’t understand, but if she’d done a little bit of research, she’d discover that some of the things she criticizes have some benefit—and maybe even some charm. Oh, well. She proved one thing, at least. Even in the warm environment of Arizona, you can still have a frigid personality.



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