By WARREN DILLAWAY - email@example.com
Bathing suits, blow-up creatures and Mexican hats were just a few of the creative elements worn by participants in the 17th annual Polar Bear Plunge held Saturday at Geneva State Park’s Breakwater Beach.
More than 450 people took the plunge into the chilling water of Lake Erie Saturday afternoon hoping to have a bit of fun and raise money for Special Olympics.
“It’s a wonderful cause,” said Jeff Brodsky who has participated in the event for 10 years and now serves as event doctor and volunteer.
“It was just fun,” said 14-year-old T. J. Harrod of Kent after completing his first loop of a carved out portion of ice.
Judy Stahl and her teammates on the Hippothermia team had a special reason for making their way to Ashtabula County. “We did it in memory of our friend who died a year ago,” she said after tumbling from the chilly waters and grabbing a towel.
Leanne Banyas of the Conneaut High School Justice Club sounded brave after sprint
ing around the icy loop in a Batman costume. “It wasn’t that bad,” she said.
“This is our first time. It was worthwhile,” said Jennifer Johnston of Wickliffe. “We’ll be back next year,” said her friend Andrea Brannen of Cleveland.
The event is also a boon for local businesses; especially the Lodge and Conference Center at Geneva State Park.
“We totally sold out both nights (Friday and Saturday),” said event organizer Chandra Brode of the 110 rooms at the lodge.
She said plungers came from Cincinnati, Toledo and many other Ohio communities. Brode said there were also some visitors from Pennsylvania.
“They just want to jump in freezing water,” she said of the visitors from Pennsylvania.
Brode said there were more than 350 adult plungers and more than 100 high school students signed up for the event.
She was happy the weather was colder than last year when Lake Erie kicked up dropping six foot waves on the emergency workers that protect the plunging public.
“We love to have our little protected lagoon,” she said of the area carved from the frozen lake shore. She said Severino Construction spent 12 hours cutting the hole in the ice on Friday and were back on the scene Saturday at the break of dawn.
A small group of “super plungers” started diving into the water early Saturday morning and repeated the chilly trip each hour. The bulk of the participants were broken into teams of five to 20 before they stripped down and ran into the chilly water.
The first batch started into the water around 2 p.m. and the last group was done around 2:40 p.m. About 15 minutes later high School students from Mentor, Lakeside, Geneva and Conneaut high-fived a ring of emergency personnel as they raced around the lagoon.
Brode said the final figures were not in Saturday, but the event usually raises about $100,000 for Special Olympics. She said numbers were down slightly from last year, but fundraising looked good.
Participants in the high school division of the plunge were down slightly because the ACT test was held Saturday and several school dances were planned,” Brode said.
“We had a couple of teams raise more than $9,000,” Brode said.
Dozens of area firefighters put on their wet suits and stood in the cold water to make the event safe for participants.