The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

February 22, 2009

SPLISH SPLASH

Hundreds chill out for Special Olympics

GENEVA-ON-THE-LAKE — Pirates, hippies, gigantic donuts — they all came to Geneva State Park Saturday to thumb their pink noses at Mother Nature and help a worthwhile cause.

Nearly 500 people tossed common sense aside and spent a few moments in icy Lake Erie for the 13th annual Law Enforcement Polar Bear Plunge, held at the park’s Breakwater Beach.

“Everybody had a great time, nobody got hurt and we raised a lot of money for Special Olympics,” said Sharon Bradley, who helped coordinate the event. By early Saturday afternoon, some $65,000 had been collected, she said.

This year’s Plunge was dedicated to Greg Harmasek, a Geauga County sheriff’s deputy who died last year. Harmasek had attended numerous Plunges, Bradley said.

“It was an emotional day,” she said.

Skies were overcast and temperatures hovered around freezing at the start. Snow in Saturday’s forecast hadn’t yet arrived, but a brisk wind added to the participants’ post-plunge agony.

Rescue personnel in cold-

water suits, standing in waist-high water, were positioned at the back of the hole, ready to help if needed. The team also served as cheerleaders, sharing high-fives with the Plungers as they waded by.

The crowd included 150 students from Pymatuning Valley High School, who braved the water in tribute to former principal Jeff Meddock, who died last year. Two hours later, 317 adults — some traveling hundreds of miles — lined up for their chance to splash a few inches from ice floes.

Nearly as many people watched the show from atop a bluff overlooking the show. Spectators laughed, gasped and shook their heads at family and friends below.

Many of the folks who were shouting and laughing moments before their turn had a different reaction as they emerged from the frozen lake. “I officially retired,” one man said as he darted by, teeth chattering.

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