The 27th annual Jacksonport Polar Bear Club plunge into Lake Michigan is held at Lakeside Park in Jacksonport, Tuesday, January 1, 2013. / H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette Media
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JACKSONPORT — Amid shrill screaming, hundreds of people stepped off the edge of the ice and into Lake Michigan Tuesday as part of an annual New Year’s Day swim in Door County.
For some it was their first time — and they said they’d be back to do it again. For others it was a return to an annual event to kick off yet another year.
“There is no real reason to to this, whatsoever. Especially if you’ve done it once,” Doug Norton of Butte des Morts said. “My son is doing it for the first time this year — he’s 10 — and if he’s smarter than us, it will be his last time.”
Norton has done the swim about eight times along with Chris Thorpe, also of Butte des Morts.
The event started in 1986 when J.R. Jarosh jumped into the lake solo. The family has watched the event grow over the years. J.R. Jarosh continues to don a tux and partake in the swim.
“It’s been fun to watch how it’s grown,” said Jon Jarosh, J.R.’s brother, and vice president of the Jacksonport Polar Bear Club, which sponsors the event. “Regardless of if my family organized it, I think people would still show up. It’s kind of a tradition now, and that’s all we really ever hoped for.”
He attributes the success of the event to the event itself. You know, running into Lake Michigan in Wisconsin in the middle of winter.
“It’s kind of a fun way to enjoy the new year,” Jarosh said. “We never set out to create an ongoing event or one of the larger clubs in the county. It was my brother. He lost a bet and decided to see how many months of the year he could swim. My mom didn’t want him to go in and here we are.”
The air temperature was announced as 24 degrees at swim time with a water temperature of 32. Fun, indeed.
“It’s just crazy enough — but not too crazy — to keep some people from wanting to do it but enough say ‘I’m totally doing that,’” Jarosh said. “I think long after we’re gone people will be showing up at Lakeside Park to hop in the lake on Jan. 1.”
Tuesday’s swim was the fourth for Illene Cupit of Green Bay, who keeps coming back for one reason.
“Because it’s so crazy,” she said after climbing out of the water and traversing a stretch of ice and sand. “It’s one of the craziest things I’ve ever done. I don;t know if it’s a tradition, but it’s something that is pretty fun to do.
“It’s a great way to bring in the new year,” Cupit said.
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