By Jermaine Hylton
Three decades ago, an Oakville mother whose sons were laying around during the Christmas holidays, suggested in exasperation that they "Go jump in the lake!"
You know what? They did it. Oakville brothers Todd and Trent Courage took their mother Gaye's words literally, and plunged into the cold waters of Lake Ontario on New Year's Day, 1984. The then-boys were sluggish and lounging around the house when they agreed to jump in the water. It was an exhilarating experience the brothers will never forget.
That first jump 30 years ago sparked a three decades-long tradition in Oakville, with more people involved each year. In the early days, it was about 30 of the brothers' friends and family members jumping in the lake on New Year's Day. Now, it's hundreds of people from across the Greater Toronto Area. Some 100 volunteers drive from Stratford, Ontario, each year, to help run registration on the day and answer questions on site.
Perhaps best of all, the annual Polar Bear Dip has raised more than $1.2 million for clean water projects in the developing world. The brothers and their mother Rwanda travelled with World Vision to Rwanda in 2008 to see what getting off the couch one day began for people in desperate need.
"It was a life-changing experience, and it gave such credibility to what we are doing," says Todd Courage. Visiting the completed water projects was an emotional experience for all, as the family saw the joy on the faces of people who were getting clean water. Mothers whose children might have died from water-borne illnesses before could now give them clean, safe water to drink.
Back at home, the Courage Brothers are preparing for this year's dip on January 1. It's much easier now than in the early days, when there was no Internet, no social media. The brothers used word of mouth to draw attention, while their mom made chilli to serve to the shivering dippers. Now, live music, performances, and even a costume contest are staples at the event. Not to mention the wonderful hot tub, for warming up afterward!
"It's crazy, very cold but you get used to it," laughs Trent Courage. And although they've contended with freezing rain, ice jams and snow storms: "We've never cancelled a Polar Bear Dip in 30 years," he says.
The Polar Bear Dip is truly a family tradition and the Courage brothers would like to see their children carry on the family event. It just shows what can happen when parents push their kids a little, to get up and do something instead of lying around at home -- and when parents support those kids once the idea is underway. They sky really is the limit.
Here are five tips for challenging your teens to start something extraordinary, as taught by Todd, Trent and their mother, Gaye:
1) Have the courage to push your kids a little, as Gaye did 30 years ago this week.
2) Use your imagination when it comes to suggesting challenges.
3) Be there to support your kids once they've taken the step, whether with a drive, a pot of chilli, or perhaps even a journey overseas.
4) Share the news about their accomplishments. It will make them feel good, and maybe entice others to get involved for a good cause.
5) Think big, and get ready to be amazed. The challenge doesn't have to be a one-time thing, but can become a community tradition that changes the world!