The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

February 23, 2014

Polar Bear Plunge participants help Special Olympics

GENEVA TOWNSHIP — A brisk wind seemed to negate the effects of bright sun beating down on hundreds of people in bathing suits waiting to jump into Lake Erie on Saturday afternoon during the 18th Annual Polar Bear Plunge.

The unique mix of people were all there to help hundreds of Special Olympians compete in a variety of sports throughout the state.

The plunge brought together people from all over Ohio to raise money and have a little fun along the way.

The pond-sized pool of water was cut from the frozen banks of Breakwater Beach. Area firefighters, dressed in wet suits, created a semi-circle for the participants to run, walk or swim through.

Chandra Brode, who grew up in Geneva, said the amount of people participating in the event dropped slightly this year, but the fundraising efforts went well.

She said about 370 people participated in the event this year, down slightly from last year, but the organization already surpassed the goal of $75,000 for the event. She said as much as $25,000 in in-kind donations were also provided to make the event possible.

Brode said the Super Plunge was canceled this year because of a lack of participants and the Harley-Davidson raffle was not held.

“A lot of people were disappointed,” Brode said. She said both events could return next year.

“The people who are coming out are truly committed Polar Bears,” Brode said. She said the proceeds go to Special Olympics Ohio.

“It goes to support the  23,000 athletes who compete in the state of Ohio,” she said.

The event is also a tourist boon for the Geneva area filling area hotels and restaurants. “It is a draw to the area from people all over the state of Ohio,” she said.

Brode said people come from Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, Dayton, Defiance and many other communities.

“I grew up in Geneva. I’m glad to help them come (to the area),” Brode said.

The high school plunge experienced an attendance dip at least partially due to all of the calamity days that hit area schools this year.

“We had a lot of first timers. We raised about $1,300,” said Lisa Raffe who coordinated the Lakeside High School efforts. The Dragons won the trophy for most participation.

Aaliyah Allgood, of Lakeside, was wrapped in a pink towel in an effort to get warm after making a quick dash in and out of Lake Erie. She said the water was freezing, but “It wasn’t that bad.”

Raffa said the rookie factor may have taken effect during the plunge. “A couple of people nose-dived,” she said.

“It was cold (but) really fun like every year,” said Will Taggart, a senior at Lakeside, who has been participating for many years.

Brode said 60 to 70 high school students from Lakeside, Conneaut, St. John and Geneva high schools participated in the event.

The organization of the event has become easier each year for the park staff. “We have one meeting with them. We’ve been doing this for so long we all know what to do,” said Rich Alderman, a Geneva State Park ranger.

Jeanette Brinkley came all the way from Broadview Heights to try and catch a deathly cold, but did it for a good reason.

“My son Cedric has Down syndrome and we are raising money for him,” she said.

Michelle Falcione, of Ashtabula, enjoyed her trip through the chilly water. “It’s great we always have fun,” she said.

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