Boating, fishing, and swimming are just a few of the ways people rely on Lake Ontario’s 1,640 cubic kilometres of fresh water.
But the lake plays another role?one that could mean the difference between life and death in a country halfway around the world. It’s home to the Courage Brothers? Polar Bear Dip, an event that sees thousands of ?dippers? plunge into the lake’s icy waters each New Year’s Day for charity.
Trent Courage, co-founder of the Polar Bear Dip, recently shared how the dip has grown from humble beginnings to become the largest charitable event of its kind in Canada.
?This event started 25 years ago when Todd and I were in our twenties,? Trent says. ?After New Year’s, we were hanging around our mother’s house and I guess she got tired of us being there with nothing to do?so she told us to go jump in the lake. At that time, our house backed onto Lake Ontario, so we took her up on it.?
From there, the event ?quickly became a tradition. Each year, more and more of our friends would participate with us and it eventually grew so much we started to collect pledges and give the funds raised to charity. At the start, we’d give to a different charity each year. However, once the event grew to the point that we were having hundreds of dippers and tons of spectators, we decided that we should form a lasting relationship with a single charity. We’ve had a relationship with World Vision for at least the last 14 years now?and It’s been great.
?The Courage Brothers? Polar Bear Dip for World Vision turned into an event that supports water projects because we’re a bunch of people throwing ourselves into freezing cold water to raise money for fresh water. It’s ?water for water.? There’s a great connection there.?
In North America, where access to clean water is usually as simple as turning a tap, it can be hard to envision spending hours each day simply gathering enough water to survive. But for millions, It’s a life-or-death reality. The Courage Brothers? Polar Bear Dip for World Vision helps change that, with over $450,000 raised so far toward clean-water projects ?in countries such as Rwanda, Sudan, [and] Kenya.?
As Trent explains, ?the funds help with building of water towers, laying pipes, installing water pumps, among other things. The significance of fresh water can’t be understated. Clean water is the ?essence of life.? It can relieve disease and death, can sustain life and livestock, irrigate crops for food, and enables clean clothes and cooking.?
This fall, Trent and his brother Todd visited Rwanda to see firsthand the results of their fundraising.
?It really provoked a lot of mixed feelings,? Trent says. ?It made [us] thankful for what we have and also thankful for all the support that participants in the Courage Brothers? Polar Bear Dip have given us. The support from all our dippers and spectators has allowed us to make a practical difference in so many countries. It just goes to show what a group of people can do when we all pull together.?
The urgent need for those efforts was plain to see, as Trent explains.
?We saw children spending many hours and much effort transporting water to their families,? he says. ?We saw a woman washing clothes in water from a mud hole that had overgrown plant life and was used by cattle. When I asked her if any of her family had gotten sick from the water, she began to cry and told us that the baby on her back had bloody diarrhea?a sure sign of cholera.?
In a recent press release, Todd Courage added his own impressions of the visit. ?Visiting Kahi, Rwanda, and seeing life there with my own eyes has changed everything for me,? he says. ?The image of watching hundreds of children carrying big yellow buckets full of water, walking literally miles to bring it back to their towns and villages, has been permanently etched in my mind?It’s like a human pipeline.?
New Year’s Day 2010 will mark the 25th anniversary of the Polar Bear Dip. And the Courage Brothers, along with some 500 other ?dippers,? will be in Oakville to dive into Lake Ontario’s freezing water to support the Kahi Clean Water Project. They’ll be dressed in ?just about anything from bikinis, tartan skirts and clown outfits to costumes designed with such imagination that it can leave you awestruck,? and they raise funds by having people sponsor their dip.
The water temperature is usually ?just around or just below freezing.? A few times, organizers have even had to break the ice on the lake. But as Trent explains, braving the cold is well worth it.
?We hear time and time again from World Vision how much they appreciate the Courage Brothers? Polar Bear Dip,? he says. ?Not only does the dip raise funds to help communities get fresh water, it raises a large amount of awareness about the projects World Vision takes part in around the world. This event generates a huge amount of publicity throughout December and on New Year’s Day. We always make sure that representatives from World Vision are at the event so they can talk about the organization and the projects.
?It’s not just a bunch of crazies jumping into a freezing cold lake,? he adds. ?It’s a fun way to raise money and have an impact.?
For some participants, the connection goes well beyond the main event. ?Many of the people who participate in the Courage Brothers? Polar Bear Dip sponsor children through World Vision,? Trent says. ?Participants can visit the World Vision booth at the event on January 1 and find out about sponsorship opportunities too.?
If You’re brave enough to take a dip on New Year’s Day, or want to find out more about the event, you’ll find everything you need at the Polar Bear Dip website.