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Brave or crazy? Polar-bear swimmers take icy plunge to mark 2009

OAKVILLE, Ont. - It started with the click-click-click of chattering teeth.

OAKVILLE, Ont. - It started with the click-click-click of chattering teeth.

There was an airy swoosh as clothes were cast off, a faint smacking as flesh furiously rubbed flesh to make body heat. Then came the countdown, which upon reaching "one" elicited a wild whooping, a rushing crowd and an enormous splash. It was a chorus motivated by Courage.

And while some call it crazy, some 420 people joined the annual call to conquer the frigid waters of Lake Ontario Thursday for the popular polar bear dip organized every New Years Day by Oakville, Ont. brothers Todd and Trent Courage.

Emerging from their running plunge into freezing water with land temperatures at -6 C to mark 2009, new sounds from the swimmers were exactly alike.

"Cold! I'm really cold!" stammered 12-year-old Jamie Protheroe as his shivering brother Ryan, 9, was towelled down by his dad on the beach of Oakville's Coronation Park.

"I wanted to do something really ridiculous and I wanted to help other kids get clean water and - ahhhh - my feet are numb!"

The Courage brothers' 24th annual tradition, which started as a dare by their mom to get her lazy sons off the couch, has grown to become the largest charitable ice-water dip in Canada.

Participants in Thursday's event raised at least $52,000 toward a $60,000 goal for World Vision to help construct water systems in Rwanda.

"It's a great cause, and we think it's great to start off the year with a little insanity, and it can only get better from here," said Khris Morine, 49, of Ancaster, Ont., who for a third straight year flung his buff body into the depths with three buddies under the team name "No shrinkage."

Scores of others also shunned bikinis in favour of silly costumes, including a group of canoeists complete with cardboard boats and paddles, a Queen Emperor Penguin and an overgrown man in a diaper calling himself the first babe of 2009.

Stacey Gibbs was there to celebrate.

"I always said I was going to do something wild and exciting on my 40th birthday," said the Burlington resident. "I've already jumped out of a plane so this was the next best thing."

The event has gained steam to the point that nearly 5,000 spectators turn out each year. It all started when the Courage brothers were told to go jump in the lake by their mom.

"To have such a small, funny thing happen, to (have it) grow into a larger polar bear dip for a great Canadian event," said Todd Courage, 44, "I think it's a fantastic thing, we're both very proud of it."

Donations are still being collected online at polarbeardip.ca.

More than $380,000 has been raised to provide clean water in developing countries since the brothers staged their first dip in 1985.

Canadian rocker Tom Cochrane led the countdown for the Oakville event, while other swimmers braved icy water in places including Toronto, Vancouver and at New York's Coney Island.

 
 
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