Students Take Icy Plunge in 19th Annual Polar Bear Swim

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When Hunter van Adelsberg ’15, shivering slightly and his hair damp, was asked why he had just jumped into a small pool carved out of the Occom Pond ice, he didn’t hesitate.

Polar Bear Swim

Dozens of students took the icy plunge into Occom Pond during the Dartmouth Winter Carnival Polar Bear Swim. (Photo by Jeff Woodward)

“It’s one of those Dartmouth experiences,” he said with a smile, “being one with winter.”

Van Adelsberg joined dozens of students in the 19th annual Polar Bear Swim, a popular Winter Carnival event. With snow flurries and the temperature well below freezing, students lined up and jumped two at a time into the pond on the north side of campus.

“It was great,” said Jacob Ammon ’15 after jumping. His wet hair was freezing a bit, but, he added, “it was very refreshing.”

“It’s on the bucket list, you know?” said Haley Shaw ’15.

There were many spectators who decided to stay dry and, at least relatively, warm. Andy and Pam Bowers, parents of Mandy Bowers ’14, made the drive from Williamsburg, Va., to take in their first Winter Carnival.

“Needless to say, they don’t do anything like this down there,” said Pam Bowers of Williamsburg, home to the College of William & Mary.

The Bowers said they weren’t worried about their daughter, a co-chair for Winter Carnival, jumping into the near-freezing water. Emergency response workers and law enforcement officers were on hand to monitor the event, and this was Mandy’s third year participating. “She’s an old hand,” said her mother.

Students and parents weren’t the only ones at the event: Sara Muñoz, assistant professor of Spanish, was bundled up in a scarf and parka as she watched her first Polar Bear Swim.

“I think they’re really brave,” she said, shouting encouragement to her students in Spanish. “I’m impressed.”

Would Muñoz ever think of participating?

“If I get tenure,” she said, laughing, “I’ll jump in that year.”

Several professors jumped this year. Perhaps the highlight of the day was when Dr. Wiley “Chip” Souba, dean of the Geisel School of Medicine, took the plunge. Souba showed up in a green and white Dr. Seuss hat and white lab coat. He took off the hat and stepped to the edge of one of the platforms. With students chanting, “Souba! Souba!,” he jumped in.

Wiley "Chip" Souba

Dean of the Geisel School of Medicine Wiley “Chip” Souba takes the plunge into Occom Pond as part of the Geisel School’s “Polar Plunge for Health Equity,” which raised money for the school’s new Center for Health Equity. (Photo courtesy of the Geisel School of Medicine)

Afterward, he posed for a few photographs, collected his commemorative pin, which all participants received, and toweled off. The dean seemed at a loss for words.

“It was cold,” he said. “Oh boy.”

Souba was part of a group of Geisel students and faculty participating in the medical school’s “Polar Plunge for Health Equity,” which raised money for the school’s new Center for Health Equity. The center provides financial support for students wanting to train in underserved areas, both locally and globally.

Organizers said the turnout was good for the event, though it was lower than last year’s swim, which had milder weather. The participants each had a rope tied around their waist and swam to a ladder on the other side of the small pool. Julietta Gervase ’16 figures she was in the water for five to 10 seconds.

“It was so cold that you don’t realize how cold it is,” she said afterward, standing next to her friend Caroline Estill ’16.

“I’m definitely going to have to do it all four years,” Estill said with a smile.