There hardly could have been a more arctic morning for dozens of brave – or crazy, depending on how you look at it – souls to jump into the waters of Lake Carolina at the fourth annual Polar Bear Plunge on Saturday.
Moments before making the plunge, brother-sister pair Camden and Elice Walrath huddled together beneath Elice’s fuzzy blue bathrobe.
Standing bare-skinned on the dock, wearing nothing but her swimsuit as temperatures hovered near the freezing mark, 15-year-old Elice said she was thinking, “Maybe this is a bad idea.”
She’s very cold-natured, after all. But she’s also “kind of an adrenaline junkie,” she said.
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“I always want to do something once,” she said before the jump. But afterward, she said, “I’d rather go in a hot spring, that’s for sure.”
The Polar Bear Plunge raised $6,291 for Children’s Charities of the Midlands and, typically, draws about 100 to 150 jumpers of all ages, this year ranging in age from 7 to 55.
Before the plunge, participants huddled together, wrapped in coats and robes and towels, sipping hot drinks and moving to get their blood flowing. Then, in small groups, they danced together eagerly on the dock, nervously eyeing their frigid fate.
Elice said she had suspicions her 14-year-old brother might chicken out. But with cheers behind them, Camden splashed in right alongside her.
“You’re so numb that you don’t feel the cold anymore,” Camden said, dripping.
Others emerged from the water with grimaces and shivers.
“The water was coooold! It was coooold,” said Ken Robinson, a second-time jumper who, along with friends, warmed up for the plunge with a little liquid courage. “It’s for charity. It’s insanity to do it otherwise.”
Robinson joined more than a dozen members of the bowtie-clad “Chippenwhales” team, the largest group to jump together.
This year, the team raised $5,896, more than doubling the team’s total last year.
Gary Matthews has organized the Chippenwhales for the past four years, leading their yearlong fundraising effort and then gathering everyone at his house in the morning to boat over to the dock for the plunge.
The jump, he said, is “bad. I’m telling you, it’s bad.”
“But most of all, it’s a good time. It brings us all together to have some fun,” Matthews said. “It’s a small sacrifice for a great cause.”