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Intrepid dippers brave frigid temperatures and icy waters in annual Digby Neck polar plunge

SANDY COVE, N.S. – A group of 10 polar bear dippers greeted the New Year by plunging into the icy waters of St. Mary’s Bay in Sandy Cove on Monday. 

Adorned mostly in swimsuits and t-shirts, the small group withstood the -13C weather with a wind chill making it feel more like -20C, and the 0C temperature of the water as they raced into the water and quickly ran back out. This year marks the 17th annual Digby Neck Polar Bear Dip.

Amy Lynn, of Port Lorne, said she saw a post about the annual event on Facebook on New Year’s Eve and made a quick decision to jump in – literally.

“I just saw it and said, ‘I’m going to do it’,” Lynn said. “You gotta try everything once, right? And I told some other people on Facebook that I was going to do it, so I can’t back out now,” Lynn said before her icy plunge, still bundled up in her winter coat. “I have to admit, I’m a little scared. It’s really cold out here today.”

The freezing temperature had everyone a bit jittery, even this year’s Polar Bear Dip organizer, Anna-Marie MacKenzie-Kelly.

“I made sure I had first responders on hand this year,” she said, nodding her head towards a few volunteer firefighters from the Digby Neck Volunteer Fire Station, who had joined the couple of dozen observers on the beach.

As far as the event was concerned, MacKenzie-Kelly said there was no question of calling it off.

“It’s a beautiful day to look at, it’s a bit sunny,” MacKenzie-Kelly said. “And the temperature outside doesn’t affect the water temperature at this stage,” she added.

After her first icy plunge, Lynn said a few hours later that other than feeling like her feet were frozen, she had a good time.

“It was exciting to go in,” she said later. “Refreshing even. But I can’t stand cold feet and my feet were just burning afterwards,” she laughed. “Once we got to Digby and I got a coffee I was all right. I’m definitely going to be back for more next year, but I’m definitely not going in barefoot again.”

MacKenzie-Kelly has now completed the dip at least 14 years in a row, and she said it felt much like other years, although last year’s 3C air and 4C water temperatures were more moderate than this year’s temperatures.

MacKenzie-Kelly added that the cold and the snow-covered road conditions probably contributed to the drop in participant numbers from other years, but overall she was happy with the turnout.

“It was great and I’m very pleased with the turnout. Every year, we get a few new people showing up and of course, we always have the diehards,” she laughed. “The crazy ones,” she added, including herself among that number.

New Digby Neck residents, Gustavo Styl and Ivan Diaz have just arrived from Chile and they made their way through the snow and down to the beach to watch the event, the first of its kind that they’d ever seen.

“It was amazing to watch,” Styl said. “We were not prepared to join in this year, but we’ll have to start practising for next year,” he added. “It could take us about six months.”

Normally a fundraiser for the food bank, this year the event was held in honour of Glenda McNeill, and all monies collected will be donated to The Digby-Clare Home Support Agency. Glenda was the mother of regular organizer and polar bear dip president, Janet McNeill. Glenda was also the former loved teacher and principal of Barton and Digby Neck Schools. She passed away, after a long struggle with cancer on December 24, 2017.


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