Polar Bear Dippers committed to their causes

By Craig Westcott/January 6, 2023

Some of the people participating in the two Polar Bear Dips held on the Avalon on New Year’s Day came as part of teams in support of particular causes. Some even sported team shirts. 

Hard to miss among the large crowd participating in the Canadian Mental Health Association’s dip and fundraiser at Chapels Cove Beach in Harbour Main was a local crew clad in matching blue tee shirts emblazoned with the word ‘Cont;nue’ across the front. On their arms were the initials KK, standing for Kevin Kennedy.

For each and every member of this group, the slogan and initials bore special meaning, as did the bond of their joining together to charge into the cold Atlantic surf to start the new year.

“We’re doing this today because two and a half years ago, after 28 years of being married and 40 (altogether) with my husband, he committed suicide, for no reason,” said Alicia Kennedy, the leader of the crew. “He was fire chief of the Harbour Main Volunteer Fire Department, he was a construction worker, he was a loved member of the community, and for no reason he committed suicide. So, this is our tribute to him. This is our way of giving back to mental health, to pass it (the message) on and to raise funds so that hopefully in some way we can make a difference, and we can stop this from happening to another family.”

As the dozens and dozens of people who showed up for the fundraiser gathered on the beach to prepare for their dip, members of the volunteer fire department, tasked with looking out for public safety, kept a watchful eye, the window on one of their trucks decorated in memory of their former chief.

Prior to the start of the dip, members of the Kennedy family gathered in a circle and drank a toast to the husband, dad, son, brother and uncle.

Alicia Kennedy later explained to The Shoreline the meaning of the slogan ‘Cont;nue’ with the semicolon replacing the letter i. “That means that we continue, that you don’t give up, that you continue to fight,” Kennedy said. “No matter what goes wrong. And you can have all the education in the world, the message is still not getting through. We are still losing people and more has to be done. This is our way of doing more.”

As for future polar bear dippers, Kennedy advised one way to avoid some of the shock of suddenly meeting the cold water is to walk in slowly so that you don’t splash yourself. “It’s exhilarating, actually, it’s not all that cold,” she said.

This particular New Year’s Day turned out to be much more clement than some past ones. There was less wind than usual, and temperatures fluctuated between five and seven degrees on the south side and centre of the Conception Bay shoreline, which also saw a lot of fog.

“Last year was much colder than this,” Kennedy recalled. “So today with a temperature of five degrees we don’t mind getting in, not at all.”

Before asking the fire department for a countdown to the plunge, one of the event’s organizers, Bob Myers, thanked the participants and offered some advice.

“Don’t stay in the water too long,” Myers said. “I’m sure you don’t need to be convinced of that… Don’t go out too far. It does drop off a little bit.”

Myers reminded everyone the fundraiser is for the Canadian Mental Health Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.

“We want to keep everyone (safe) who is struggling, or who has struggled with mental illness. That’s why we’re here today,” he added.

This was the 10th anniversary of the polar bear dip, which was started by just four people but has grown exponentially over the year. Myers said the money raised is used to support the work of the Newfoundland branch. “Their programs and services go a long way in helping to promote good mental health throughout our province and support the resilience and recovery of the one in five Canadians affected by mental illness,” he said.

After the dip, the participants warmed up with hot chocolate and coffee and received a special button to mark their feat.

Earlier in the day, a smaller, but equally enthusiastic group of people turned up at Topsail Beach to take a cold plunge to raise awareness and money for the ALS Society of Newfoundland and Labrador. Among them were Anne Sheldon and Danny Huxter.

“We do this regularly, almost every day we do cold water exposure,” said Huxter. “Typically, it’s over by the Sunshine Rotary Park (in St. John’s).”

Huxter maintained there are health benefits to taking a cold water dip.

Asked if this particular plunge then was a piece of cake, Huxter replied, “We’ll see. We don’t know what’s under the water.”

Sheldon said while Huxter has been taking the cold-water dips for about six years, she only started it in August.

Further up the beach, Lisa Taylor of Paradise also prepared to enter the cold waters of the bay.

This was her first time making such a dip.

“I’ve just moved back home after being away for 40 years and thought, ‘It’s my first New Year’s here and I’m going to come do it,’” Taylor said. “We love it here and it’s good to be home and I thought what better way to start 2023 than to do this?”

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