Hundreds of people will be taking the plunge into the icy cold Crooked Lake Saturday, Feb. 8 so that kids with disabilities have the opportunity to compete in the Special Olympics.
The third annual Anoka County Polar Bear Plunge begins at 1 p.m. Feb. 8 at Crooked Lake, 13180 Crooked Lake Blvd. NW, in Coon Rapids.
According to polarplungemn.org, 522 people have registered and $28,405 in online pledges have been made as of the afternoon of Jan. 27.
Veteran plungers have said the anticipation, but not the jump itself is the worse part because trained divers are in the water where the plungers go in as a safety precaution and you are only in the water for several seconds.
“The anticipation is the worst when you are walking down the plank to the lake, but once you jump in it’s not too bad,” said Coon Rapids Police Officer Brian Beedle, who will be joined by his wife, and two children for the third straight year of this Polar Bear Plunge as part of the Rapid Responders team that includes the Coon Rapids Fire Department as well.
Terrance Schaffer, who will be taking the plunge with the Anoka Masons, said, “It definitely takes your breath away, but it’s not as bad as it’s made out to be.”
Participants can check in early at the plunge site Friday, Feb. 7 from 4:30-7:30 p.m. or on Saturday, Feb. 8 from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Visit plungemn.org for more information on how to register, support a team or individual or where the shuttle bus park and ride lots will be. Participants must bring shoes and towels.
Each participant must raise a minimum of $75 and can sign up individually or as part of a team. Unique and outrageous costumes are encouraged. Last year, more than 690 people jumped into Crooked Lake and raised $139,203 for Special Olympics Minnesota.
Blaine Police Officer Steven Nanney has done the plunge every year in Anoka County and a year before that at Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis. He used to live in Missouri and knows officers who have done Polar Bear plunges there, but joked that they can usually just run in and out of the water because there is no 14 to 18 inches of ice in which to cut a hole.
“It is a challenge,” he said. “The first year I did it my anxiety was high, but when I got in the water there was nothing to it.”
When Nanney sees his colleagues and others getting excited in the tent before making the plunge and when he’s thinking about what a good cause this is for, that makes the brief cold shock worth it.
He also gets a kick out of the outfits people wear. A couple of years ago one of the Blaine officers was one of the “Angry Birds” and the rest of them wore pig outfits to replicate characters from the game. Last year, they took on a more serious tone by wearing red shirts with the message not to use the “r-word.” This year they will be characters from the “Duck Dynasty” television show.
Schaffer has gone to seven Polar Bear plunges at Lake Calhoun and every Anoka County Polar Bear Plunge at Crooked Lake, but he was usually documenting the events for friends. That changed last year when he was convinced to take the plunge for the first time.
“I’ve usually been the guy taking pictures. I was never the guy jumping in, so it was a whole new experience last year,” he said.
He will be making a repeat jump this year. As of Jan. 27, he has raised the most money of any individual with an amount of $1,060. When he and the Anoka Masonic Lodge team makes the jump, they will be wearing top hats and aprons.
Although the minimum required donation to participate is $75, many raise more than this. Special Olympics Minnesota reported that the average plunger in 2013 raised $210.
Schaffer said the Champlin VFW Post and Kraus-Hartig VFW Post in Spring Lake Park and the Elk-River based Whittemore Chapter 283 of the Order of the Eastern Star organizations are helping out the Anoka Masons team as well as friends and family.
The single biggest fundraiser event the Coon Rapids Rapid Responders team did for the Polar Bear Plunge this year was a basketball game between the Coon Rapids Police Department and Coon Rapids Middle School staff back in December, Beedle said.
Individuals will also collect as many donations as possible and Coon Rapids businesses have been really active in this event, he said.
The set-up is a fun time for Beedle because a lot of police officers from neighboring departments come out to prepare the Crooked Lake site for hundreds of plungers and spectators. The Minnesota Department of Corrections have even brought some inmates to help out, Beedle said.
“It’s rewarding to be around other law enforcement that you don’t have the opportunity all that often to see and then to see the final outcome on what we did,” he said.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]