At 97-years-old, Jim Rutherford Sr. could very well be the oldest polar bear swimmer to set foot in the icy shores of Departure Bay Beach Wednesday (Dec. 26).
The Port Alberni resident, whose grandfather settled on what would become Rutherford Road in the late 1800s, will be participating in the 53rd annual Frank Ney Memorial Polar Bear Swim on Dec. 26, accompanied by three other generations of the Rutherford family.
While he has participated in polar bear swims for the past 14 years, this will be his first end-of-year dip in the place he called home for so many years.
“I look forward to carrying on the family name,” he said.
Rutherford was born in South Wellington in 1915, and moved into the Harbour City in 1924. He started participating in polar bear swims after the death of his beloved wife, Evelyn.
“I wanted to do it before my wife passed away – she said I’d have a heart attack, so the year she passed away I went in,” he said.
Since then he has become a familiar face at the Alberni Valley polar bear swim, which due to insurance regulations has become an unofficial swim event in recent years.
“I always show up every year,” he said, adding with a laugh, “The older you get, the stupider you get.”
He said he has no pre-swim rituals, but that the secret to success is less – clothing that is.
“I go quite early and I strip off to my shorts, my body temperature goes quite down so when I go in the water, the water is sometimes warmer than standing outside,” he said.
Registration for the Frank Ney Polar Bear swim starts at 11 a.m., with the swim to follow at 1 p.m. There is no cost to participate, however, all proceeds from hotdog sales will be donated to the Shriners Burn Fund.
There will also be prizes for the best costume (group and individual) as well as prizes for the oldest and youngest participants, said swim chairman Buddy McRae.
“You get some colourful characters that come down, the idea to jump into Departure Bay on Boxing Day itself is colourful,” he said. “They like to dress up and have fun with it.”
Last year approximately 130 swimmers came out for the annual swim, which is sponsored by Royal LePage Nanaimo.
“We’re hoping to have a big crew out there this year,” McRae said. “The weather leading up to Christmas has been great, so hopefully this continues right through to Boxing Day.”