When I was ten-years-old, I wanted to go to summer camp.
I did eventually find a wonderful camp called 4-H camp where kids are given real beds in real cabins with connecting bathrooms, provided with three meals a day, and encouraged to do typical healthy camp things like swim in a pool, canoe, shoot a bow and arrow, and learn the Cha-Cha-Slide.
Before I discovered 4-H, though, one of my friends suggested I go to this OTHER camp with her. This is a series about this OTHER camp. I hated this camp so much for many reasons including…
The Polar Bear Swim
One fun activity the camp may or may not have advertised was the Polar Bear Swim – a chance for one group of campers to sneak up on a sleeping cabin at 6AM, scream, shake their screen, and demand that you, “WAKE UP!” and “GET UP!” because it’s time for a, “POLAR BEAR SWIM.”
Now, as most 10-year-olds do, I enjoyed a good pool day. I loved jumping into the water, practicing handstands, and playing games like Categories until my fingers turned into prunes. What I didn’t love, however, was being forced out of my bed at 6AM.
My fellow first-time campers and I had heard tale of this Polar Bear swim. Before going to bed on the second night of camp, one of my fellow campers asked my counselor if we could sneak up on another cabin and invite them to swim in the morning. My counselor suspiciously said,
“No, but, I bet we will get to participate in a Polar Bear swim somehow!”
The other campers were giddy with excitement anticipating the moment we may be awakened from our beds and forced to swim in a small swimming pool with 25 other children at dawn.
I decided that I would sleep through it.
Well, sure enough, early the next morning while I was sleeping soundly in my sleeping back atop my thin cockroach-infested mattress, I heard the disruptive shouts of a hyper 11-year-old digging her nails into the screen next to my face and screaming in my ear,
“WAKE UP IT’S TIME FOR THE POLAR BEAR SWIM!”
I kept my eyes closed and pretended to be sleeping.
She used her fists to pound on the screen and shouted loudly a second, third, and fourth time.
“POLAR BEAR SWIM!” “POLAR BEAR SWIM!” “POLAR BEAR SWIM!”
At this point, my other campers were excitedly changing into their swimsuits and preparing to run out the door.
I heard my counselor ask, “Is Nicole awake?”
Then in a soft, gentler voice I heard the 11-year-old who had been screaming in my ear tell her neighbor that her camper won’t wake up and that she was starting to feel worried. Together they yelled in my face,
“IT’S THE POLAR BEAR SWIM!”
“ARE YOU ALIVE?”
In my grumpiest, meanest voice I growled, “YES I’M ALIVE!”
…And then I trudged through the woods into the freezing cold pool. I even tried to have fun and do a back flip, but I smacked my face into another kids elbow. I rubbed my forehead with my hand. That’s when I realized this pool had a ridiculously high chlorine content. I smelled my arm and thought I was going to gag. I made my way through a zoo of children and managed to pull myself out of the pool. I asked my counselor if I could take a shower before breakfast. She said there wasn’t enough time and that we would be taking showers in the evening. I retreated back to my corner of the pool and waited there for the Polar Bear Swim to be over. I accepted the sad fact that I would spend the rest of the day smelling like chlorine. My hair would turn green and my skin would turn orange in the sun.