Tuesday, December 26th, 2017
New Year’s Day – Resolution Walk/Run and Padden Polar Dip
Todd Elsworth

Many people set goals for how much they are (or not) going to eat and drink over the holidays, especially on New Year’s Eve (aka “Rookie Night”). But it all leads to what many have set their subliminal sights on- “Resolution Day”-  their own personal Day of Atonement if you will, Jan. 1.

It’s nothing new, it’s been happening throughout recorded time.

[From Wikipedia: The ancient Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. The Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named. In the Medieval era, the Knights took the “peacock vow” at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry.]

I have no such resolution registry, rather I simply set my sights on New Years Day and schedule my first event on next year’s calendar. In 2014, I thought to myself, “What better way to welcome in the New Year than a lap around Lake Padden and a quick dip to cool down?” I figured that it was at least a good way to measure my mettle at the start of the year. That was that.

If you are ready to set your own resolution, here are the details for the annual Bellingham event:

Lake Padden Resolution Walk/Run & Padden Polar Dip – January 1

  • Resolution Walk/Run – Start 11:00 a.m.
    (Show up to the Lake Padden bathhouse around 10:45 a.m.)
  • Lake Padden Polar Dip – Start 12:00 p.m.
    There is no registration needed, this is a FREE event.

(Check the City of Bellingham Parks and Recreation Facebook page by December 31 to find out if the event has been canceled due to algae, here. )

Here’s a recap of my 2014 story.

How Padden Polar Dip all started:

After watching his mother do the 2002 Birch Bay Polar Bear Plunge, local swim coach Jim Williams wondered what it would take to make the plunge in Bellingham. In place to get it done was Lance Romo, Program Coordinator for Parks and Recreation. Romo was handed the baton to make it all happen.

Resolution Run Course

Resolution Run Course

“At the finish, we’ll have snacks, patio heaters and lots of camaraderie before the dip. At high noon we’ll line up and jump in chilly Lake Padden.We’ll have heated showers and goodies for everyone exiting the water. We recommend parents with children under 10 consult a physician before entering the water.”   – Lance Romo, Race Director

Lance Romo, Race Director

The Man that makes it all happen.

Some insider tips from Race Director Lance Romo to get some more details on the Dip:

Q: What’s the record cold temperature?
A: Well it depends on how accurate you believe those little ducky hot tub duck thermometers are. If we had to put a number to it I’d say it’s been as cold as 36 and as “warm” as 40. It’s cold, real cold. Some years there’s ice at the water’s edge. One year I dropped the thermometer and it just plain broke.

It really the wind that gets you. The water is cold, but you can get right out and put on dry clothes. If it’s windy the cold is brutal.

Q: Any mistakes over the years?
A: Boy howdy, YES! The first year Jim and I thought it would be cool to have a contest to see who could swim to the pilings and back first. The winner got a big stuffed polar bear. Well there were a lot of swim team kids there and being young they were game to try, but it’s just not safe to be swimming in that kind of cold. There’s a reason its dip and not a swim.

For our first Padden Polar Dip, we hauled a couple truckloads of shavings out of the Sportsplex Zamboni. It was one of those not so cold years, so by morning, our truckloads had been reduced to a disappointing white patch.

Q: Have you had any other “Uh Oh” moments?
A: Well, one year I had this gorilla suit, after the countdown I ran down and dunked into 3-4 feet of water. All that fake gorilla hair absorbed Lake Padden and for what seemed like a long time, I thought that might be how I was gonna die. The headline could have read something along the lines “Gorilla clad Lifeguard Drowns”.

Q: Are there lifeguards?
A: Yes. Arne Hanna Aquatic Center provides 2 lifeguards and on a few occasions, they’ve had to pull back some joker who thought he could defy some thermodynamic principle and swim across the lake who had to be dragged back to safety. They invariably think this is hilarious until I explain in my own special way, how bad an idea it is to endanger our staff with their 17-24-year-old stupidity.

Q: How many people dip?
A:  There’s not the way to really tell. Can we say a lot? We give away 300-400 “Certificates of Dipage” and the beach is just wall to wall lined with people running into the water. I think “a lot” is the most accurate number, maybe triple that for spectators.

Q: What about the Resolution Run?
A: Well it started as a timed event and evolved into this mass of friends and family stomping around one of Bellingham’s favorite parks. Some people go for it, I know a guy who did three laps, but most people walk or run one. It’s one of the few events we organize that I can actually participate in. For the past few years, Mr. Varga and I ran a lap then after counting down to noon ran in the water.

Q: Do people dress up?
A: Absolutely, one of my favorites are the tattooed gents who traditionally show up in cowboy hats and gold Elvis Glasses. There’s a group, I think from Garden Spot, who bring a group of 8 or 9 in the same costume. People wear tutus, duck masks, capes, face paint, etc. It’s been fun to watch people from year to year. I have pictures of from the early years of kids who are now adults, some “almost” adults now bring kids of their own.

Q: Is there a costume contest?
A: Heck no. People are having so much fun with family and friends, I just try to stay out of there way.

Q: Do you wear a costume?
A: After the drowning scare in the gorilla costume, I usually strip down to my kilt and call it good.

Q: Do you wear your kilt traditional?
A: Yes, traditionally Mexican’s wear something under, especially when it’s January 1.

Q: Any advice for first-time dippers?
A: Wear shoes. That cold water, rocks and soft Washington feet are a no bueno combination. The other thing I would suggest is to come at it with an open mind. The water is undeniably crazy cold, but for some reason, people leave the water with a smile.

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About the Author:

As the co-Executive Director of Recreation Northwest and the founder of the Bellingham Traverse, Todd promotes outdoor recreation and brings people together to enjoy, preserve and improve the places where we play. He enjoys biking, hiking, paddling, skiing and will try anything twice. Get connected at RecreationNorthwest.org.

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