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Nome’s Polar Plunge: Braving the Chilly Waters of the Midnight Sun Weekend

Polar Plunge participants were forced to quickly enter the water as tall waves crashed into them. Ben Townsend photo.

Starting at two o’ clock on the dot, Nome residents and visitors ran from sand to sea to partake in this year’s Polar Plunge. The annual event is held on the weekend of Midnight Sun, the first after the summer solstice. 

Just before running into the 41 degree water the plungers were reminded of the one rule for the event- you have to get your hair wet. As the crowd ran to the water, gingerly walking on small rocks and leaping over driftwood, screams filled the air. Strong waves caused by 14 mph winds left the plungers no choice but to embrace the cold water as it rapidly rose from their legs to their stomachs.

Ted Kedrowski, a volunteer at Nome-based radio station KICY, described the approach he and a fellow volunteer had going in. 

“We had said going in ‘no hesitation’. Just go right in, and we did,” Kedrowski said. Their initial goal of lasting a minute in the water quickly shifted. “We did say we’re going to try to make it a minute. I think we made it 15 seconds.”

A man in a polar bear costume cheered on the plungers. Ben Townsend photo.
Plungers didn't remain in the water long. Ben Townsend photo.

Kedrowski was accompanied by Alex Stack. The KICY volunteers from Florida are in town for two weeks to help with upgrades to the radio station’s towers. They arrived just two days prior on Thursday, just in time to participate in the Midnight Sun weekend. 

“We were told ahead of time that things were going on and it’s just a great opportunity to become part of the community,” Kedrowski said. “It’s been an absolute blast.”

Locals Jacquelyn Serrano and Ashley Sockpick also participated in the plunge. Serrano plunged twice, first when the event began and again when Sockpick arrived a few minutes late. Sockpick made the trip on her lunch break from Norton Sound Regional Hospital.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s cold. But at the same time with it being such a yearly tradition and so many people doing it. I mean, how can you not do it?”

Also taking part in the plunge was Brittany Crandell, a travel nurse from Houston. Crandell arrived in Nome the first week of April and is entering the last week of her contract. Reflecting on her experience in Nome, she has some parting advice for visitors and future plungers. 

“You really have to try and make yourself a presence in the community. That’s just how you get opportunities like ‘hey, you want to go four wheeling?’ or get invited over to somebody’s house for dinner,” Crandell said. “Just one last note. If you do plan on doing the Polar Plunge, bring a pair of shoes and have someone on the shore waiting for you with a towel, it makes the experience a ton better.”

Participants warmed up and dried off by a large bonfire made of wood pallets and large logs of driftwood. The Nome Rotary Club puts on the event every year and served reindeer dogs by the road for plungers and their supporters.

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