Hundreds brave the cold during 12th annual Polar Plunge in Kirkland

Hundreds of participants take a trip into the frigid waters of Lake Washington on New Years
Hundreds of participants take a trip into the frigid waters of Lake Washington on New Years' Day in Kirkland.
— image credit: Matt Phelps, Kirkland Reporter

A cross dressing former Greater Kirkland Chamber of Commerce director, Elvis and a Viking showed up at Marina Park in Kirkland on Wednesday. This is not the start of a bad joke but rather the scene at the 12th annual Polar Plunge on New Year’s Day.

Hundreds gathered to watch their friends, family and neighbors start 2014 with a dip in chilly Lake Washington. The temperature of the water was about 45 degrees.

“This is one of several selections in my closet,” said Kirkland resident Timmy Woods, who tied for best costume by dressing in a Viking hat, rainbow tutu and not much else. “The water was surprisingly warm.”

Woods and Doug Davis, clad in a thick robe, pink wig and evening gown, won the unofficial costume contest. Local blogger Rob Butcher dressed as Elvis, while his wife, Kate, was dressed as a bunny.

Kirkland resident and Polar Plunge veteran Mary Ahrensfeld came in her robe and swim suit.

“It is a good challenge,” said Ahrensfeld. “This is my seventh or eighth year. I have decided to do it every year so I know exactly what year I can’t do it anymore.”

Community volunteer Terri Fletcher came decked out in Seahawks gear, while others were dressed in everything from a toilet seat to butterfly wings. Nearly all of them entered the water at 1 p.m. in their costumes.

But most, like Scott Brackett and his son Brayden, would not agree with Woods’ characterization of the water’s temperature.

“It was refreshingly cold,” said Scott Bracket, who lives on Finn Hill. “I couldn’t tell you if it is warmer or colder than in years past. I can just tell you it is cold. But it is a great start to the New Year.”

The Bracketts, like many in Kirkland, have made it a family event. Eric Fuller and his family of seven came from Sammamish.

“We wanted to make it a family tradition,” said Fuller, who participated for the second year in a row. “We are here with another family of 10.”

Most would acknowledge it takes a little more than guts to brave the cold.

“It is crazy,” said Jana Fuller. “Because I am middle aged it makes me feel young again.”

This year the entire park was packed full of people who did everything from, watch, dip a toe in the water, to swim all the way out to the warning buoy about 25 yards from shore.

The King County Marine Patrol was on hand in case anyone was unable to get back to shore. A deputy said that there were three emergencies at other Polar Bear Plunge locations around King County prior to 1 p.m. on New Years’ Day. There were no visible emergencies at Marina Park.

The city of Kirkland used to host the event but it is now an unsanctioned gathering.

“There are more people, more of a buzz and no bonfire,” said Brackett. “I guess stupidity reigns.”


Former Greater Kirkland Chamber of Commerce director Doug Davis, left, and Kirkland resident Timmy Woods dance on the shore of Lake Washington at Marina Park in Kirkland on New Years' Day. The tandem tied for best costume during the annual Polar Plunge.

This was just a few of the hundreds of participants and spectators who attended the 2014 Polar Plunge at Marina Park in Kirkland on Wednesday.

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