The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

February 27, 2011

15th Annual Law Enforcement Polar Bear Plunge

BRRRR! - Hundreds take dip in freezing lake for good cause

GENEVA-ON-THE-LAKE — Shirtless men and bikini-clad women joined Oompa Loompas and other costumed characters Saturday afternoon for the 15th Annual Law Enforcement Polar Bear Plunge.

More than 500 people dove, or ran, into a chilly Lake Erie Saturday afternoon at Geneva State Park’s Breakwater Beach to raise money for Special Olympics Ohio.

“This makes me feel so proud. I hope it continues forever,” said Mary Bradley who was one of the original organizers of the event that has now grown into an annual tradition.

“Numbers are way up. It’s going to be a great event,” said Chandra Brode while waiting for the high school portion of the event to kick things off just before noon Saturday.

Brode said more than 350 adults and 175 high school students participated in the chilly romp through the freezing weather. She said donations were up from last year when $90,000 was raised for Special Olympics Ohio.

Students from Geneva, Ss. John and Paul, Conneaut, Lakeside, Edgewood, Jefferson, Madison, Perry, Grand Valley and Mentor took their plunge into the water wearing a variety of colorful garb.

Participants huddled close together in an attempt to stay as warm as possible while wearing next to nothing. Hundreds of spectators gathered behind ropes to photograph their loved ones and toss them warm clothing when they stumbled from the water.

A variety of teachers and administrators joined their students in the tradition that has grown each year. “I think it is a wonderful way for our kids to support the local community,” said Geneva High School Principal Doug Wetherholt before dashing into the lake himself.

Parking at the beach was at a premium so the Jolly Trolly, and vans, were used to shuttle participants and plunge fans to the site from event headquarters at the Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake.

The day began early for members of the Ashtabula County Dive Team as they chipped ice from the frozen lake so participants could make their counter clockwise dash into the water .

“We’ve been here since 5:30 clearing ice,” said Tony Onion of the dive team. The dive team members form an arc at the back end of the “pond” so participants can high five them.

It can be a long chilly day for dive team members. He said wet suits keep you warm and dry except for hands and feet that get chilly while standing around.

“I think it is a lot of fun for a good cause,” said Kevin Emery, who is a captain in the Conneaut Fire Department.

Numerous Special Olympic athletes participated in the plunge. “It makes me feel great,” said Dalton McReynolds who competes in swimming and track for the Ashtabula County Special Olympics program.

Kay Perkins was one of five super plungers who made eight trips, one each hour, into the lake starting Saturday morning. “It’s a blast. I’ve been here every year, but I decided 15 was the year to do the Super Plunge,” she said.

Domina DiBiase of Geneva High School decided to take the plunge for the first time this year.  “It was cold ... I wasn’t expecting the big loop, but it (the overall experience) wasn’t as bad as I expected,” she said.

Thomas Brandeberry, 16, of Geneva, said he had trouble maintaining his balance. “I dove down and I couldn’t get back up,” he said.

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