Local News

Wednesday, Jan 01 2014 07:53 PM

Chilly start to a new year

  1. 1 of 5

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Lynn Porter, left, checks to see how her niece Meggy Harris,13, is doing as the two make their way through the frigid waters of the McMurtrey Aquatic Center after a splash at the 2014 Polar Bear Plunge.

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  2. 2 of 5

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Abby Olivarez seeks warmth in the arms of her dad Alex Olivarez after the two emerged for the chilly waters of the Polar Bear Plunge.

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  3. 3 of 5

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Bakersfield Californian reporter Rachel Cook hits the water at the 2014 Polar Bear Plunge held at the McMurtrey Aquatic Center.

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  4. 4 of 5

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Larry O'Rourke makes a large splash as he hits the McMurtrey Aquatic Center pool after coming down the slide at the 2014 Polar Bear Plunge.

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  5. 5 of 5

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Cindy Wood flies down the McMurtrey Aquatic Center slide towards icy waters at the annual Polar Bear Plunge.

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BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer rcook@bakersfield.com

Two weeks was almost too long for 7-year-old AJ Soliz to wait to take the plunge.

He endured cold showers to building up his tolerance to low temperatures. Every night he asked his mom, "Is today the plunge?"

Angelica Soliz pointed out that her squirming son already sports the scars of his adventurous spirit so she lets him loose to enjoy life, even if that means giving him the go-ahead to plummet into icy waters.

"Since he's autistic, we try to teach him that, you know, there's no obstacles that he can't overcome," she said.

And so AJ joined his fellow thrill seekers to welcome the new year with a shiver-inducing splash at the 2014 Polar Bear Plunge at McMurtrey Aquatic Center in central Bakersfield.

The event attracted 200 people who braved the cold waters and about 300 spectators who cheered them on.

Terri Elison, recreation supervisor, tested the waters before people started to plunge at 11 a.m. and proclaimed the pool a brisk 52 degrees. The above-water temperatures hovered in the mid-50s.

Fifty-two degrees might not sound very cold, but it will still "take your breath away," Elison assured.

Lifeguard David Rocha, 18, who had the honor of testing both slides out before the Polar Bear Plunge began Wednesday morning, described the sensation of hitting the water as "ice cubes running into my skin."

The plunge was a family affair for many daredevils. Some clans, like AJ's, were there just to holler words of encouragement and snap photos of their dripping relatives. Others made the plunge together, often with a little prodding for their kin.

Chere Smith, 57, took the leap at the behest of her 10-year-old granddaughter Abby Olivarez.

"When your granddaughter asks you to do something, you're gonna do it," Smith said.

While Abby waited with her father, Alex Olivarez, to take the blue slide into the pool, Smith stood in line for the red slide, feeling a bit nervous. She was accustomed to eating black-eyed peas for good luck but had never tried something more extreme to ring in the new year.

"I love to go down the slides in the summer, we come here a lot in the summer, but ... it's cold," she said, standing in the shadow of the slides in only her swimsuit.

In line ahead of Smith, Cindy Wood, 63, also prepared take a frigid dip after the cajoling of a family member.

Wood's 88-year-old father Glenn Hays asked her to make the plunge and Wood travelled from her home in Porterville to fulfill his request. And Hays came out to the public pool, walker in tow, to watch her.

After Wood immerged from the pool, Hays praised her moxie.

"It took a lot of courage," Hays said.

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