The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 28, 2010

Brrrrraving LAKE ERIE

Hundreds descend on Geneva State Park to take a dip for Special Olympics


GENEVA-ON-THE-LAKE — Hundreds of crazy people stripped down to bikinis, gym shorts and Austrian outfits Saturday afternoon to take a quick dip in Lake Erie.

More than 400 people participated in the 14th Annual Law Enforcement Polar Bear Plunge at Geneva State Park as the snow flew. The event is a major fundraiser for Special Olympics.

Hundreds of people also came to witness and photograph the event, stationing themselves near the beach parking area or on ice blocks surrounding the swimming area.

The swimming area was chiseled from the ice by heavy machinery. Rescue workers in body suits formed an arc around the back of the man-made pond to insure the participants safety.

The high school division went first at noon as more than 150 high school students from Edgewood, Mentor, Lakeside, Geneva, Jefferson, Conneaut, Madison, Perry and SS. John and Paul sprinted through the water trying to get back into the warm tent as soon as possible.

Some young folks also took their time slapping high fives with water rescue personnel before leaving the water.

“It’s a really great turnout. We had four new schools,” said Chandra Brode, who helped organize the plunge with Sharon Bradley. She said Geneva had the most students participating with 40.

Matt Warner, a student at Lakeside, raised the most money of any high school student with a total of $402. He said his strategy was to ask everyone he knew for a donation.

The high school portion of the event raised $9,000 and total cash donations totaled approximately $90,000, Brode said. She said the totals are just a bit under last year’s donations, but it is understandable with the state of the economy.

“It’s a huge event. We work on this all year,” Brode said of the plunge that includes law enforcement people from all over the state. “We have a group from Cincinnati,” she said.

There were three super plungers this year that took eight dips in the lake starting at 8 a.m. Saturday. When asked why he decided to do the event Jim Green jokingly said, “I was just roaming around the hotel.”

“This is my third year in the Super Plunge,” said John Bodnar, a police officer in Streetsboro. “It really is just a great cause,” he said.

Bodnar said there are important strategies for a successful day in the Super Plunge event. The first is probably a bit obvious, but no less significant.

“Get out of the wet clothes as soon as you can and dry off,” Bodnar said. He said he also has eight different swim suits and eight different towels to insure the most comfortable experience possible.

Super plungers also had a motor home in which to warm up between chilly dips in the lake.

Mike Sanzotta, of the Geneva Fire Department, spent a great deal of time in the water Saturday afternoon but his body suit took the brunt of the cold temperatures.

“If you keep moving it’s not too bad. The more you move, the warmer you get,” he said. Sanzotta said you also stay warm with the encouragement from the plungers as they slap hands while walking or swimming by the safety workers.

A crew from the Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Department huddled together waiting to take the plunge, literally, complete with alpine outfits and a full head of blond hair for Sal Lopez.

Lopez said the experience was, “Beautiful baby, beautiful,” but would not give up the secret on wear his flowing locks came from.