Faced with subfreezing temperatures for the New Year’s Day tradition of a race in which participants swim across the Tchefuncte River, Franco’s Athletic Club program director Julie Wells declared, “The show must go on.”
Whether due to bravery or buffoonery, the weather didn’t stop 35 people from turning out for the annual Ice Man Dip and Dash — a two-mile run from Franco’s Athletic Club in Mandeville to Madisonville, a swim across the river and then a run back.
That was more intrepid souls than Franco’s spokeswoman Alice McClenahan expected.
With the wind chill in the teens and a water temperature of 49 degrees — the lowest in the event’s 29-year history — having the swimming portion this year would be “a little dangerous … a lot dangerous,” she said, so participants were given the option of just diving in and then immediately getting out of the river.
“It’s swim at your own risk,” Wells said.
From a child to those of retirement age, almost everyone took that risk. A lot of them took it wearing little more than swimsuits.
Some came up with purple lips. Some came up shivering. Most came up just looking numb. At least one came up and took a shot.
“I think about my rum shot and I think about the hot tub at Franco’s. Those are the two things that keep me going across the water,” said Tony LeMon, in a role a bit different from his day job — chief of the Civil Division for District Attorney Warren Montgomery's office.
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LeMon has done the event for the past 10 years. He does it with Shane Mutter, president and CEO of Doerr Furniture, as a challenge.
“We can’t start the year off challenging ourselves every year to do something that is just completely crazy. I have to think of a healthier way of celebrating New Year’s Day,” LeMon said. “But if you can do this, you can do anything. You can even open up a furniture store on the north shore.”
Someone who didn’t swim or run Monday was Ron Franco, the club’s owner.
“This is the first year I’ve missed. I have a muscle pull. It’s very discouraging for me,” he said.
The event is not labeled as a competition, but rather a charity event raising funds for Team Gleason. That doesn’t stop participants from treating it as a contest, though, like the “winner” of this year’s event, Paul Dauterive.
It was the second year Dauterive participated, and even though it was 40 degrees colder than when he set the course record for time last year, he’s still upset he didn’t break his record. And he doesn’t blame the cold.
“Ironically, the life jacket felt like it was drowning me. I didn’t tighten it up, so halfway through I just threw it off,” he said.
But McClenahan thought the weather was a good excuse for slowing down this year, saying that even under normal conditions hitting the water takes a toll.
“It feels like knives. It feels like a thousand knives when you hit that water,” she said.
The average high for Jan. 1 is 62.