Harlan Theaker, originally from Yorkton, didn’t do much preparation before taking the plunge at the 2019 Polar Bear Swim in Delta, B.C. He didn’t even decide to take part until the night before, when his step-daughter suggested it might be a fun thing to do on New Year’s Day.
“I didn’t even really know it was a race until we were driving there and I was talking to my wife about it and she said ‘you know, I think it’s a race.’”
That lack of preparation paid off, as Theaker won the event. The swim involves reaching a bell faster than everyone else, and Theaker came away in first place of the estimated crowd of 400 swimmers.
“I think out of those 400 only about a third of them were actually there for the race portion of it. A lot of people just do it for the experience. Nonetheless there is a huge group of people all gathered together, so it’s definitely interesting going out with the big group.”
Even though he only knew it was a race that morning, Theaker admits that he’s got a competitive streak, and it was fired up while waiting in line. He met up with a boy who he had coached in basketball a couple years ago, who told him he had a real chance of winning.
“It was only kind of then that I thought, hey, you know what it’s a race, and I’m a very competitive person by nature. So, if I’m going to do it, I might as well try to win... With anything I do, I’m one of those ‘give it my all’ type of people.”
In another way, Theaker believes he might have been prepared all his life. Growing up in Yorkton made him much better adapted to cold than most people in B.C.
“Being from Saskatchewan, I grew up in -30C winters, that was sort of the normal winter for me. Out here, their cold days are 2C, that’s a cold day... Don’t get me wrong, it was chilly for sure, but I almost think it gave me a bit of an advantage, being used to that cold... Until it was over and I was on my way out, I didn’t feel cold at all.”
He considers the win to be a case of mind over matter, and he set his mind on doing well and dove in without thinking too much.
As the winner of the event, Theaker plans on doing it again next year.
“I feel like I have to do it next year, I want to defend the title!”
But he’s not afraid of having more competition. He recommends everyone try it once, even if they just do it to see what it’s like, because it’s a fun experience.