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This year’s “Polar Bear Plunge” lived up to its name as some participants—like polar bears—got into a frozen lake and stood dripping wet on sheets of ice.
The air temperature was 47 and the water temperature was 32 on Saturday morning, Feb. 1 for the ninth annual charity event at Lake Land’Or in Caroline County, said Molly Gee, a Polar Bear Plunge team member. Sponsored by Wright’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Ladysmith, the event raised $19,600 and that money is for food, rent and home heating bills for hundreds of financially struggling Caroline residents.
Last year, it took 70 participants to raise $17,500.
This year, 52 participants braced themselves for the cold water and ran into the lake for a quick dip. However, two college students punished themselves even further by going over to a sheet of ice in the lake and standing, while other participants hurried out of the water and over to three robust bonfires to warm up, Gee said.
Even during the event, the water’s surface froze over and left minor cuts on the shins of some participants, Gee noted.
The week had been a cold one, and the lake continually froze over day after day. In the past, team members would manually break up the ice. But this year, Lake Land ’Or’s maintenance crew brought in heavy equipment and broke up the ice so that participants would have access to the water, Gee said.
Local public figures participated, such as County Supervisor Jeff Black, School Superintendent Greg Killough, Ricky Matiak of Caroline Fire an Rescue and Major Scott Moser of the Caroline County Sheriff’s Office. Black was instrumental in getting the Caroline County Board of Supervisors to donate $1,000 to the cause.
Participants were mainly adults, partly because anyone under 16 had to be accompanied by an adult, Gee said. However, the youngest participant probably was Ryan Zubris, 7, who also participated last year.
Participants raised money through pledges and donations. Susan Hafey, a local lawyer, raised $3,045, which was the largest. Hafey had helped organize the plunge in Pennsylvania and she introduced it to Caroline County, Gee said. Participants who raised $100 or more received a Polar Bear Plunge T-shirt.
Hafey also managed to bring actual judges—minus the black robes—to the event to judge the costume contest. Caroline County Circuit Judge Patricia Kelly and Judge Joseph J. Ellis ruled that the best overall costume was that of the Hale family (Caroline, Corran and Carson). Theirs involved a wheelchair and a car made of a cardboard box—all named Turbo, Gee said.
The best female costume title went to Sarah Kiely and Christine Jones for their jellyfish costume. Emily and Kathy Johnson were recognized for their creative costumes from Alice in Wonderland. Two employees with Aqua Virginia, Luther Ghorley and Tim Castillo, won in the male category as “Aquaman.”
Originally, the motto of the plunge was, “We get cold so others stay warm.” But over the years, the charity has evolved into one that helps struggling residents with rent payments and food, as well as home heating bills.
Three other Caroline churches participated: St. Mary’s Catholic, St. Asaph Episcopal and Rehoboth United Methodist. Churches also sold chili and baked goods to raise additional money.
St. Mary’s maintains a food pantry that benefits over 40 struggling families each week, Gee said.
Pizazz Hair Studio in Ladysmith donated proceeds from three hours of haircuts at the salon and the employees worked without pay, Gee said. Many other companies donated money to the event.