by Sue Austreng
Frigid winds whipping across an icy lake made Popsicles of plungers during Saturday’s Polar Bear Plunge.
Some 425 plungers took a frozen dip into Crooked Lake during the first-ever Anoka County Polar Bear Plunge event, a fund-raiser for Special Olympics Minnesota.
Local law enforcement plunger teams represented police departments in Blaine, Coon Rapids, Ramsey and Lino Lakes. And Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart took the dip with deputies forming two teams: the Jail-Bird Jumpers and the Po Po Plungers.
Not only that, local businesses, schools, churches, restaurants and families formed teams to take the chilly dip.
They were freezin’ for a reason and Fox 9 News weatherman Ian Leonard plunged into the frozen Crooked Lake right along with them.
Leonard, whose Crooked Lake plunge was his 56th Polar Bear Plunge in the last five years, welcomed plungers and their shivering fan clubs to the icy lake and then introduced K102 radio personality Adam West, emcee for the Feb. 11 plunge.
“This is the first Polar Bear Plunge ever in Anoka County,” West said. “Special Olympics said they hoped we could raise $40,000… Well, already you’ve raised $90,000. You’re freezin’ for a very good reason,” he said.
And then, the plunge began.
Anoka County Dive Team members positioned themselves in the waist deep water – ready to rescue if needed – and paramedics set up supplies on shore to provide emergency aid if necessary.
And then waves of costumed Polar Bear Plunge teams spilled out of the warming tent atop the hill above Crooked Lake beach.
Scampering across the frozen lake and assuming plunging position, teams awaited West’s introduction and countdown: 3, 2, 1, jump.
With each icy splash cheers erupted from the crowd as plunge teams climbed out of the icy water, scampered across the dock and headed for the hot tubs for some warmth and welcome relief.
“This is crazy. Those guys are crazy. It’s freezing out here… but it’s for a good cause. Hip! Hip! Hooray!” one enthusiastic spectator said, cheering for shivering plungers and watching more head for the water.
This year, plungers competed in team challenges to see who could raise the most online funds for each Polar Bear Plunge location and overall.
Teams competed in four categories: corporation, law enforcement, restaurant and school.
In law enforcement,three local teams finished in the top 10 overall: Anoka County Sheriffs Office placed second, raising $8,989. Coon Rapids police finished third, raising $6,120, and Blaine police finished in fourth place, raising $5,536.
In the restaurant division, Boston’s Restaurant and Sports Bar (Riverdale location) finished 10th, raising $1,693.
Among Minnesota schools taking the plunge, Coon Rapids Middle School finished in seventh place overall, raising $2,756.
None of the Anoka County-Crooked Lake teams placed in the corporation category of the team challenge.
History of the plunge
The plunge, presented by Minnesota law enforcement, is a unique opportunity for individuals, organizations, schools and businesses to support Special Olympics athletes by jumping into frigid Minnesota waters in the middle of winter. This year there were 16 Polar Bear Plunge sites across the state.
The 2012 plunge marks the 15th year of the Polar Bear Plunge in Minnesota. The first took place at Como Lake in 1998 when 65 participants raised $20,000.
Last year, evidence of the increasing numbers was apparent when more than 11,000 participants raised more than $2.2 million for Special Olympics Minnesota.
This year, plunge organizers are hoping to raise $2.5 million.
For more photos of the event, click here.
Support is still being gathered. To make a pledge or to learn more about the Polar Bear Plunge, visit www.plungemn.org.
Sue Austreng is at [email protected]