Brickner, Gustave Adolph
Gustave ‘Gus’ Brickner, steelworker of Charleroi, Pennsylvania
Brickner attempted to swim the English Channel twice.
On his first attempt, Brickner almost succeeded. He was 400 yards from the shore when severe cramps required him to be pulled from the water. During this attempt, he was 45 minutes ahead of the world record pace for the swim.
On his second failed attempt, he was somewhat further from shore (a few miles) when he had to be retrieved from the water after he passed out and did not immediately revive. Brickner had been in the water well over 24 hours by that point.
He was about to attempt a third time after several months of training, but the authorities governing the channel called the event off because of inclement conditions.
Brickner earned his nickname, “The Human Polar Bear,” when local residents often saw him swimming in the Monongahela River behind ice-breaking ships in the middle of a cold winter snap the area was known for. The river is well used by commercial barge traffic, and long thick freezes of the river required ice-breakers to be brought in.
Brickner always celebrated the New Year by jumping into the Monongahela River and going for a brief swim. He did this for decades. Eventually, other residents started joining him for a short dip in the icy waters, thereby starting the “Polar Bear Club”, a tradition that continues annually to this day. This event is covered by local newspapers and TV stations.