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The Doctor Is In, Cold Lake Tahoe

Courtesy of Kimberly Moore, Marketing Director, Tahoe Restaurant Collection, Lake Tahoe, California.

Dr. Jeffrey Hartman will participate once again at the 250-yard Gar Woods Grill & Pier Polar Bear Swim in Lake Tahoe.

Dr. Hartman explained his dip in the high-altitude swim at the Gar Woods Grill & Pier. “I am purely recreational and do it for fun. I’m not in anyway shape or form a competitive swimmer. Gar Woods has a prize with cash for the fastest swimmer and a prize, which is a free drink coin for the person, who stays in the water the longest. I am the 10-year reigning champion – you can probably guess which one I win.

I am a poor athlete and always have been. For that reason, I gravitated to distance running because I performed so badly at all the more glamorous sports. As my hideous form gave me numerous running injuries, at the age of 26 I jumped back into the pool to try to get some sort of exercise during times in which I had stress fractures.

My last swimming adventure had me failing advanced 5 yarders in the infamous blue bunny swimming program circa 1970s. 10 seconds of face in the water was insurmountable and left emotional scars. At the time, I was at least five years older than all the other participants and I refused to go back into the pool.

To this day, I refuse to put my face in the water and swim a modified dog paddle.”

The local emergency medicine doctor’s enthusiasm knows few bounds. “In some years, I am able to recruit some friends the night prior to the Polar Bear Swim where we jump off the dock outside the bar at Gar Woods in an unsanctioned polar bear practice. Let it be known this is in no way encouraged, and in fact strongly discouraged, by the staff at Gar Woods.”

And he humorously explains his acclimatization process. “I occasionally swim as a form of cross training in my modified dog paddle style. The pure inefficiency of my stroke makes it good exercise as I flail about. I imagine I look a lot like a lizard running if you stuck them in water.

There is no acclimatizing to 40°F water. Honestly, I prefer a stiff drink before I participate, though again this is strongly discouraged by the staff of Gar Woods. Some people wear wetsuits and others grease up with Crisco, but [they should be] prepared to be booed if you wear a wetsuit.”

The doctor’s secret of success? “My secret is to put duct tape over my Speedo. There are two parts of your body that really don’t appreciate the sudden cold: your chest as one of them and you might guess the others where I put the duct tape. The duct tape is not waterproof, but it lets the water in very slowly so you don’t get that shock that takes your breath away. You are number for a good time after so taking off the duct tape doesn’t really hurt. Duct tape also works great to put on your feet as there are a lot of rocks that you have to walk across.

Stepping into the water is moderately unpleasant at best, but for someone like me who has never been cheered at any athletic event it is well worth it. The energy is really a lot of fun.”

While swimming – for 250 yards or any distance – in sub-40°F water seems like a reason to back out or be scared, the good doctor describes the safety procedures of the annual event. “I have never felt that it was unsafe and I have never really been scared. The county boats are out there with a Jet Ski to help anyone who appears to get in trouble. The mild hypothermia actually gives you quite a pleasant little euphoria.”

Dr. Hartman explains his post-race rewarming procedures. “It can take a while to warm up. About five or six years ago, they started having hot tubs outside to warm up. This has been fantastic.

The problem with me, is that the duct tape needs to be taken off before you can get in. And that can be kind of a production as it needs to be done in private lest things fall out. And when 40 other hypothermic people get into the hot tub, it really isn’t that warm anymore.

I generally dry off, get into thermals and a polar bear suit, followed by my parka. I then proceed to take all the free hugs available, and there are plenty, and sip on a pleasant little warm tequila concoction that the bar makes.”

Why does he do it year in and year out? “This is all about the fun. If someone is a truly competitive swimmer they will probably not be overwhelmed by this. Certainly, it is more than your typical polar bear plunge where you step in, dip your fanny and get out. The atmosphere surrounding the event and the party afterwards and the general positive attitude is great fun.

I hope there is some crazy fool who sees fit to take over my reign as the last man in. I’m getting too old for this.”

Register here for the annual Gar Woods Grill & Pier Polar Bear Swim in Lake Tahoe, part of the North Lake Tahoe SnowFest.

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