May 24, 2019

Polar Bear Dip sparks challenge

Sometimes you have to go looking for trouble, others it just lands in your lap. I promise, I haven’t been out looking, so you know this candidate drifted in from the stratosphere.

Let me set the stage by saying that last summer, even when temperatures were at their hottest, I never went swimming – not in a tub, not in a pool, not in a lake, not in the ocean. This is not to say that I didn’t have the opportunity. I spent many, many happy days paddling my kayak on area lakes and the ocean, and I got my feet wet nearly every time. I even got my knees wet a few times. But that was it -no submersion. I think the last time I did some swimming was last spring in a pool getting ready for another paddling season.

You know what’s coming, right? The other day, as I was nodding off in our nearly 80-degree office/sauna here at 491 Main St., I got an invitation/challenge via e-mail from Tess Ftorek at Washington County Technical College to join the fun on Jan. 24 for the third annual Polar Bear Dip. I wasn’t sure, being in a dulled sensory state, that I’d read things right. I know the ocean temperature right now is a frigid 45 degrees. It’ll be at least 5 degrees or so colder by the end of January. I shivered, shook and rubbed my eyes. Yep, I’d read it right.

It took a second to remember a conversation I’d had with my paddling mentor Karen Francoeur who is teaching a couple of outdoor-oriented classes at the college this year. She’d been challenged, presumably by Ftorek, to take the plunge or do something similar for the cause. She thinks she’ll do Eskimo rolls in a kayak, thus saving herself the total body experience. Sounds like an ice cream headache in the making.

The cause, by the way, is the Ronald McDonald House in Bangor. And the Jan. 24 event will be the third one by the college. Ftorek sent me some stats on the past two: The first raised $1,500-plus and the second, more than $6,000 in addition to house supplies such as sheets, kitchen items and food. The goal for the upcoming dip is to top $10,000. It’s possible. The first year there were 33 dippers and 150 spectators. Last year there were72 dippers and 500 spectators, Ftorek said. “We also have incredible participation from the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point and Peter Dana Point plus students and employees from other Technical Colleges and also many businesses that send employee dippers and cheerleaders.”

Ftorek went on to answer the question I had in mind – WHY?

“You may wonder how this event came to pass. One beautiful November day I had a group of students out hiking at Shackford Head State Park in Eastport. We were walking along one of the beaches when a couple of the young men dared each other to jump in. The next thing I saw was shoes, jackets, socks and shirts flying! In they dove amidst laughter and cheers from those of us on the beach. Once they got out and were reasonably dry one of them said to me, ‘Hey, Tess, let’s have a Polar Bear Dip this winter!’ And, I, in my foolishness (and impulsiveness) agreed thinking that they would forget about my promise.

“That was not to be. So, we set a date for a Friday in January after we returned from semester break. During the break, as some of were planning the event, we decided that we should turn it into something beneficial to the community. Hence, the Ronald McDonald House became the beneficiary. Many of our area residents use this facility when loved ones have needed an extended stay in a Bangor hospital. This was our chance to give back something to such a worthwhile cause.”

I have to admit, in my weaker moments over the past few days, I’ve at least thought about doing it. One of the nicer things about getting older is that you don’t feel as if you have to rise to every challenge. As a matter of fact, you can even decline a few and blame it on wisdom. I’m still thinking.

Should you want to join the party and need a little more information, here’s what Ftorek told me about the festivities. It’ll be at Gleason’s Cove in Perry “a beautiful salt water cove that is generally sheltered from the wind. We are very safety conscious. Pleasant Point Ambulances will be on hand with trained staff, heated ambulances, blankets, etc. Our heavy equipment operation class brings down its heated trailer so people can change clothes in the warmth. The Coast Guard shows up and hangs nearby in a patrol boat. A couple of our instructors wear survival suits and stand in the shallows ready to pluck anyone out of the water if necessary. We have a roaring bonfire on the beach and lots of free hotdogs and hot chocolate. It is, in fact, a winter beach party! This year we are opting for a tropical theme. Many of us have grass skirts, leis, pink flamingoes, Hawaiian shirts … well, you get the picture.”

The Washington County school has commitments to participate from several other technical colleges as well as from St. Andrews Community College (that is sending a contingent, some exchange students from Mexico) and Washington Academy.

Should you need a little incentive, dippers who collect sponsor funds will get a heavy, embroidered sweatshirt.

There you go, the gauntlet has been thrown down. If swimming in Eastport is too much for you, you could go watch and attend a dance at La Sardina Loca in town. Proceeds will also benefit the Ronald McDonald House. Event organizers are looking for a Disc Jockey, by the way, to volunteer to spin the tunes.

Contact Ftorek by e-mail at or give her a call at 1-800-210-6932 and ask for Tess Ftorek in Student Services. Let her know you’ll be down to take a dip. Don’t forget to raise some pledges to help the Ronald McDonald House.

Jeff Strout can be reached at 990-8202 or by e-mail at

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