Starting the year with a shiver

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Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald A girl takes a swim in a freezing cold Moses Lake during the Polar Bear Plunge on Monday.

MOSES LAKE — With the thermometer hovering at around freezing, several dozen people stood around in swimsuits or shorts, ready to take the plunge into Moses Lake.

“This is something I do to prove myself,” said Cheryl Volk as she clutched a sleeping bag around her shoulders. “I had a pretty bad last half of the year, and this is a good way to start a new year.”

It was Jan. 1, and time for the Polar Bear Plunge, one of the annual fundraisers of the Grant County Animal Outreach.

It’s Volk’s third time into the frigid waters of early winter Moses Lake.

“But it’s not as cold as you think it is, and it happens so fast,” she said. “It’s not like you go in slow motion and you’re tortured. It happens so fast, and it’s so easy to do.”

“And it’s for a good cause!” Volk added.

Helping to keep order and support the swimmers — most of whom rushed into the water and then right back out again — and Moses Lake and Grant County firefighters and rescue workers were a group of American Legion Riders from Ephrata and Bikers for Christ.

“A bunch of us crazy bikers go to Starbucks, have fellowship for about an hour, ride around the peninsula, and then come up here and support this great cause,” said Pat Hanford of the American Legion Riders.

One of the few brave people to actually swim and go under was Mario Avila, who says he did this to show his son just how tough he still was.

“He just got back from the Marine Corps, so he doesn’t think Daddy’s that tough,” Avila said.

A 25-year resident of Moses Lake, Avila said he’s been wanting to take the Polar Bear Plunge for the last five years. And drying himself off in the cold January air, he was philosophical about swimming in a frigid Moses Lake nearly two weeks into winter.

“You know, it was like anything in life. You can just go in, breathing slowly, and coming out of the water, you won’t even feel it,” he said. “But that’s how life is.”

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at

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