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Polar Plunge: Cold water swimmers take 1st dip in Libby Creek

by Brad FuquaWestern News
| October 27, 2009 12:00 AM

About three weeks shy of his 67th birthday, Rick Klin climbed into the 46-degree water of Libby Creek on Sunday afternoon with a wide smile accompanying his water boots and gloves.

“Come on in, it’s nice,” Klin calls out to onlookers under a bridge that spans the creek on Farm to Market Road. “It’s like a summer swim … this is wonderful, wonderful.”

Klin’s name should be familiar to anyone who knows anything about the Libby Polar Bear Club. The group’s ventures into frigid winter waters have become an annual tradition over the past decade.

“I take a cold shower every day,” Klin said. “I never leave home without one.”

Two other swimmers joined Klin in the water – Dan McLaury and Steve Sonju. The turnout seemed a little disappointing for Klin but he said it’s difficult to draw very many folks with general hunting season getting started.

The club’s biggest plunge of the winter occurs on the Sunday before New Year’s Day. One year, Klin said about 70 spectators were on hand to watch.

Klin has been involved in Polar Bear plunges for more than a quarter century. He organized a club in Bitterroot Valley years ago and brought the activity to Libby after relocating. Over the years, plungers have occupied each end of the age scale, including a toddler as young as 3.

“Before I used to float down on my belly because there was no pool,” Klin said in reference to Libby Creek. “The creek changes but this has stuck around for two or three years now.”

Klin’s water boots and gloves are not used to keep those parts of his body warm.

“I wear boots on my feet … people throw bottles down here,” Klin says as the bridge rattles overhead from a passing vehicle.

As for the gloves, Klin suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome.

“This allows me to enjoy it a lot more,” he said. “Nerve damage is nerve damage.”

The water has gotten down to 31 degrees now for the past three winters. Still, Klin said the water is about 2 degrees warmer on the average when compared to several years ago. Klin knows because he keeps charts on such details.

“The average for the whole year is about 35 degrees,” he said, adding that when he gets down to 31, ice typically needs to be broken.

McLaury said he participates in the plunges for the fun of it.

“Your resistance for cold water grows a little after you’ve done it for a while,” he said.

Sonju is another repeat plunger who may be giving up the activity after this winter.

“This is probably my last year doing it,” he said.

Don’t expect Klin to ever give up his winter weekend plunges. When asked if he’ll ever decide to stop his Polar Bear activities, Klin quickly responded, “When I die.”

The Libby Polar Bear Club meets on Sundays at 2 p.m. throughout the winter and into April. Newcomers as well as spectators are always welcomed.