The Big Chill

Residents take the Polar Plunge for good cause

She’s wanted to take the plunge for a while. 


Mandee Jackson, 19, stood waiting for her siblings to finish registering for the second annual Central Peninsula Polar Plunge. She was dressed as Tinker Bell in a bright-green dress — a leftover Halloween costume.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks student is visiting family for spring break. She said she recently became a member of the “50-Below Club.” Admission to the club is given to those who stand by the college’s temperature sign in swimming suits at freezing temperatures. 

“I’m excited,” she said with a laugh. “It’s a true Alaskan event, and it’s for the kids.”

The polar plunge saw 18 participants and raised $3,300 during its second year. Divers young and old braved the frigid waters of Cook Inlet before a small crown of onlookers. 

This year’s event occurred at beach access near Kalifornsky Beach Road. Residents and divers gathered at the bottom of a makeshift trail around 1 p.m., which was plowed the night before the event, stretching into the Inlet’s waters.

Pledges collected from divers will support four organizations, which include Friends of Athletes with Disabilities, Youth Restoration Corps, the Kenai Peninsula Native Youth Olympic team and Bridges Community Resources Network.

Jackson received $150 in pledges. She is attending college in hopes of working with kids, so the event hits close to her professional pursuit.

Her brother, Tanar, stood nearby in shorts and a hoodie. He said his sister made him take the plunge. He was dressed as a Lost Boy with dark makeup smudged across his face for effect. 

“I hope I survive,” he said. 

Standing toward chunks of ice at the bottom of the trail Amber Glenzel, Native Youth Olympic team coach, awaited the arrival of some of her athletes. Many of the athletes chose not to participate this year, as a long road trip made much of the team sick. However, a few daring souls, like her 15-year-old-son Ryan, collected pledges and made the commitment. 

The team will use their received donations for future trips. Some of the team members come from low-income households, and providing housing and meals to a dozen kids on trips is expensive, she said. 

Luckily, the team’s athletes found strong support in the community. Cash Advance Alaska in Soldotna gave one of the athletes $400, she said. 

“The kids started at the CES fire station (in Soldotna) and walked on both sides of the street, hitting up businesses,” she said. “Some were very generous.” 

Jason Evoy, pastor of Nikiski Church of the Nazarene, stood about 50 feet from the beach. The hairs on his pale-white legs stretched outward in the cold Saturday breeze. The church’s worship leader Andrew Jones stood by Evoy in a barely-there yellow swimsuit. 

Neither of the men have spent an entire winter in Alaska — both hail from Outside. 

“I’ve jumped in the ocean before,” said Jones, “but it wasn’t this cold. There wasn’t snow on the beach.”

Evoy said he just wanted to help kids on the Kenai Peninsula. He also said he already felt cold. 

Before the divers entered the inlet, polar plunge organizer Kelly Wolf gave a brief introduction and the temperature of the water — 38 degrees. 

He requested attendees remain clear of the path so divers could rush to two tents nearby. A loud generator pumped heat into the tents. 

One by one, the divers slowly waded about 30 feet into the water, dunked their heads below the dark-blue tide and rushed back to shore. Central Emergency Services responders laid out a perimeter with yellow rope to insure participants didn’t wander too far. 

Jackson, along with her siblings Tanar, Dylan and Rylee, entered the inlet together, holding hands. At the 30 foot mark, the four young divers turned around and faced the crowd. They counted to three and fell backwards at the same time. When Jackson emerged, her wide eyes conveyed a feeling of excitement and disbelief. 

She said she couldn’t feel her legs but would be willing to do it again as she jogged in the direction of the warming tents. 

Wolf plans to continue the polar plunge for years to come. Competition with the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Soldotna attributed to the small crowd, so the event most likely will be rescheduled, he said. 

It’s a lot of work but a lot of fun, he added. 

“The money goes toward a good cause,” he said. 

Residents wanting to donate to the four organizations still may do so. Contact Wolf at 262-1032 for more information.