It was just past dawn on a partly cloudy morning when more than 70 students clad in bathing suits packed tightly together onto two docks jutting into Lake Hartwell.
A few shivered, and many folded their arms against the cold as they positioned themselves at the edge, waiting for their cue to leap into the gently rippling waters.
It was 47 degrees outside, and these students were ready for a dip.
The Clemson Friday Morning Swim Club is one of the University’s newest student organizations and if it works as its leaders hope, the latest tradition.
Students gather at the docks by the Clemson Rowing boathouse at 7 a.m. on Fridays and jump into the lake to celebrate the approaching weekend. All students are welcome, and there is no charge.
The club met seven consecutive Fridays in the fall, took a break in November and returned for a finals-week “polar plunge” that drew a crowd of several dozen. They returned to the docks on the last Friday in March and plan to continue through the rest of the academic year.
Clemson Friday Morning Swim Club was started by Lauren Carder and Brennan Dougherty, both seniors from the Chicago suburbs. It was inspired by a similar club in Chicago that gathers at Montrose Harbor to leap into Lake Michigan.
“When we heard about it, we were like, ‘That is such a Clemson thing! It just encompasses the Clemson culture so well. We have to bring it here!'” Carder said. “We were right, because people love it.”
The first plunge for the spring semester brought out one of the biggest crowds yet, Carder and Dougherty said.
Students started arriving in predawn darkness. Many wore pajama bottoms and sweatshirts with towels and backpacks slung over their shoulders.
They gathered on a hill that slopes down to the beach as an orange sky peeked over the horizon and turned the clouds light purple. A few helped themselves to doughnuts and coffee. Music thumped from a speaker.
The students stripped to their swimsuits shortly after 7 a.m. and gathered for a group photo on the beach. Then Dougherty directed them to the docks, where he joined them with a megaphone.
“That dock, are you ready?” he asked.
A cheer pierced the chilly air.
“This dock, are you ready?”
He got another cheer and then started the countdown: “5…4…3…2…1.”
Everyone leaped at once, and together they plunged into water with a collective splash. When their heads emerged, no one needed a thermometer to know what the water was like. Shrieks and shivering giggles did the measuring.
Many climbed back onto the docks and ran for their towels, but several stayed in the water, treading water to generate body heat. A few pulled themselves onto floaties, including one shaped like a Tiger.
The water temperature was about 63 degrees, probably warm enough for fish but considerably cooler than the average heated swimming pool.
Among those who stayed in the water a while were Carder, an industrial engineering major, and Dougherty, a mechanical engineering major. In an interview while submerged up to their shoulders, they agreed it was chillier than they would have liked.
“In the fall it got colder every week, and now this semester it’s going to get warmer every week,” Dougherty said.
“It’s going to be a good time,” Carder added.
The hardiest of the Friday morning swimmers lasted about 20 minutes. By 7:30, most were drying off and heading for their cars. Some had class at 8 a.m.
One more episode of Clemson Friday Morning Swim Club was coming to a close, but this popular morning ritual could be dawning a new tradition if next year’s students keep it going. It’s recognized as an official student club and has a budget of about $1,200.
“We always say if you are crazy enough to come jump in at 7 on a Friday morning, odds are you have something in common with the other people here because they value the same things as you,” Carder said. “You are going to meet so many new friends.”
To learn more, check out the club’s Instagram account @clemsonfridaymorningswim.
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