SI Vault
Joan Ackermann-Blount
December 22, 1980
"Great!" say the Polar Bears, hardy souls who love to leap into frigid waters and, sometimes, lure a novice in, too
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December 22, 1980

Baby, It's Cold Outside

"Great!" say the Polar Bears, hardy souls who love to leap into frigid waters and, sometimes, lure a novice in, too

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"Too bad. We use the snow in our show," Al said. "We rub it over our bodies to get us going. Having no snow is like having a room without a carpet."

"That's right," said Helene. "Snow's the icing on the cake. It makes you feel secure. Oh well, that's life."

"One February they made a cake for me out of the snow," said Pablo, walking along beside me. He's a small man with a round face and a thin, carefully shaped mustache. He wore a captain's hat, and on the back of his black denim jacket was a picture of a polar bear set in an arctic scene. Pablo's jacket was covered with souvenir patches, and he even had a little license plate that said PABLO sewn on the front. "They cut the cake and I got inside and they covered me up with snow. I left my feet sticking outside to show that I was all right. If my feet stopped moving, something would be wrong. I was there for seven minutes and then I felt someone starting to brush the snow away from my face. I got mad because I wanted to stay longer. Then I saw it was the queen, so I said O.K. She had some real cake for me. I got up and ate the cake, and there were more than 10,000 people singing happy birthday to Pablo. It was a beautiful little ceremony." He took a quick skip in his gait. "You know, my birthday isn't really in February," he said.

Some of the Polar Bears were dancing around, urging passers-by to come to the 2 p.m. swim. "On paper I'm 58," Pablo went on, "but really I'm 59. I'm most proud of being a Polar Bear. Polar Bear makes me feel healthy, makes me feel important. Not my job. My job gives me money to take care of my mother."

"It's just the two of you?"

"That's right. She takes care of me, I take care of her."

"How does she feel about your swimming in cold water?"

"First time I went in, she prayed. Me too. I climbed inside a wave and kneeled down and prayed to God. It was quiet in there and I knew God was in there with me and everything was safe inside."

"Pablo!" He stopped and waved to three teen-age girls who had shouted to him. This was the eighth year that the club had come to Lake George, so they were well known by the townspeople.

"I like any place cold," Pablo said, beaming. "When you are in a cold place your body asks you to move, and when you move you feel good. I was dreaming once we were going to Russia and it was a paradise of ice. That's right, a paradise of ice. That's heaven to me." He turned and waved to the girls again.

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