Lake plungers freezin’ for a reason

Heather L. Mueller

Sunny skies, a stiff breeze and a good cause lured many to the frozen waters of Lake Calhoun on Saturday.

Two hundred fifty-five community members – mainly police officers, teachers and young adults – plunged into the lake’s icy Thomas Beach waters to raise money for more than 6,000 Special Olympics Minnesota athletes.

Between January and March, funds raised at nine plunges across the state will help cover travel expenses, training and other costs for athletes and year-round Special Olympics programs.

Special Olympics marketing and communications manager Anna Kucera, a University alumna, said the turnout was nearly three times what organizers expected.

The Minneapolis Police Department and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office organized the fundraiser, which raised more than $50,000.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and his teenage son Charlie were the first to leap off a carpet-covered ledge into a four foot deep, square hole in the ice about 50 feet offshore.

“We need a lot of collective visualization here,” Rybak said through a megaphone to more than 100 supportive spectators circled around the hole. “Pretend it’s August and it’s 90 degrees,” he said, though the temperature actually hovered around 30 degrees.

Officers, organized teams and individual jumpers followed, making waves as they walked up a plank and out of the near-hypothermic waters, quickly scurrying on top of the snow-covered shore to friends and family standing by with towels and blankets.

“It feels like needles,” shouted one bare-chested man to a group of friends standing behind the orange barricade with his towel.

Others put off covering up and instead headed for hot tubs and heated changing tents.

While some felt the less clothing the better, other plungers opted to wear bikinis with hula skirts, bathrobes with shower caps and superhero costumes.

Plunger David Weekley traveled from Nebraska to make the jump with his team, ’80s Below Zero. The team of about 15 dressed as 1980s rockers including the band Devo and Michael Jackson.

“It takes your breath away,” Weekley said. “Your clothes become heavy and your body gets stiff,” he said, explaining how adrenaline kicks in and the desire to get out overrules all other thoughts.

Plungers were required to sign a liability waiver, and although organizers said injuries have never been more serious than a few skinned knees, paramedics and a rescue squad were on hand.

Three-time jumper Trisha Bemboom, a special education teacher at Sauk Rapids-Rice High School reminded herself to place mind over matter.

where to go

Brainerd Polar Plunge
Registration: 11 a.m.
Plunge: 2 p.m.
Breezy Point Resort Marina
9252 Breezy Point Dr.
Breezy Point, MN 56472

Alexandria Polar Plunge
Registration: 10 a.m.
Plunge: 1 p.m.
March 17
Arrowwood Resort
2100 Arrowwood Lane N.W.
Alexandria, MN 56308

To learn more or register, go to:

“It’s something you can check off your life list,” she said.

A two-time plunger, Kucera said the support and camaraderie between volunteers and athletes is what lures people back year after year.

“It’s the community that makes our programs possible,” she said.

Valparaiso University student Meghan Beaver worked as a Special Olympics Minnesota volunteer this past summer on the University campus.

Before taking the plunge, Beaver nervously watched others. And although family and friends came to cheer her on, it was her summer volunteer experience that ultimately gave her the motivation to strap on her suit and take the icy dip.

“It made it easier to actually decide,” she said.

Beaver said she hopes to spread the word about the experience and form a team next year.