Polar bear plunge, swim at Great Salt Lake brings camaraderie, bragging rights

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 1 2014 5:27 p.m. MST

Masaki Takato, left, Jett Atwood and Julie Snieder grimace as they take a dip during the Wasatch Front Polar Bear Club New Year's Day swim at the Great Salt Lake Marina on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

MAGNA — Exactly one year ago, Goody Tyler IV stood on the shores of the Great Salt Lake and watched his friends and fellow founders of the Wasatch Front Polar Bear Club swim in a New Year's Day race.

Sidelined by a recent testicular cancer diagnosis, he basked only briefly in the frigid waters. On Wednesday, Tyler was back, with a good deal more hair on his head, and he joined them and a few others in a swim to a dock at the Great Salt Lake Marina.

He coached several brave souls through a minute-long plunge.

For Tyler, the first day of the new year felt "like the end of a very long road."

He was given a clean bill of health April 9, a week after he underwent surgery that removed 34 lymph nodes and stayed his return from swimming in open water an extra two months. But by June, he was here, at the Great Salt Lake.

"I just love the water here," he said. "I'm comfortable here. I'm happy here."

Tyler said returning to the lake gave him the same feeling as returning to his own bed after a trip.

"This is my bed," he said.

Every week since October, Tyler said he has come to swim as the water temperatures dropped. Wednesday, the water was a cool 32 degrees.

"The same exact temperature as last year," said Gordon Gridley, another club founder.

Gridley won the race last year. This year, the event was more informal — a one-minute plunge for some and a swim to the dock and back for others.

Sue Frehse swam in the 400-yard race last year. She said her fingers were numb for three months.

"I pretty much vowed I would never get in (water) below 50 degrees again," she said.

But she has become a regular in the group of open water swimmers and said they're always connecting with each other and letting each other know when and where they'll be swimming.

When Tyler swam a 7-mile marathon at Bear Lake in September, Frehse was rowing the kayak beside him, providing what sustenance was needed every 30 minutes or so for the four hours he was in the water. The group is tight-knit.

"We've had a few issues between us," Tyler said. "We've literally put our lives in each others' hands."

This connection is a large part of the appeal.

"If it was just me in the water, I wouldn't do it," Gridley said.

Jim Hubbard is another regular. His wife, Connie, said you can't help but get to know the others and their families when seeing them so often.

"He's been trying to get us all into it," Clint Hubbard said of his father. "I just got back from an LDS mission to the Dominican Republic, so I'm cold enough outside (the water). Maybe next year. Maybe."

He said he got home on Dec. 3 during a snowstorm. His father went to swim anyway, coming from the lake to greet him at the airport.

"My dad comes up with these crazy ideas and talks other people into it," Clint Hubbard said.

People like Tim Heumann. The Hubbards are neighbors, and Jim Hubbard got Heumann involved.

"It's a fun camaraderie," Heumann said. "Every time I think I can't do it and I'm kind of afraid. … It's overcoming something every time. It's good stuff."

Tyler told the group of plungers how it would go. They would interlock arms, they would walk waist deep and turn around. On his count, they would dip up to their necks. He would time them for one minute.

Seven went in, shrieking as they went. Four lasted the full minute.

Jett Atwood lives in San Francisco but was visiting family in Utah for the holidays. She had heard about the existence of the event and eventually found it on Facebook.

She and Julie Snieder, who she had just met, helped each other endure the water for the full minute.

"It's something you want to say you did," Atwood explained. "And I figure you start the new year with something crazy and awful, the rest of the year is going to be cake."

Masaki Takado, a native of Japan, attended Westminster College and is now working as a nurse. He couldn't get a work visa, though, and soon will be returning to Japan. His participation was something of a last hurrah.

"It's once in my life," he said. "I can tell people I did it."

By all accounts, Wednesday was a success.

"Everyone out here is just here to have fun," Tyler said. "I love it. It's what I do. It's something we all enjoy doing. It's a great rush."

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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