The tense minutes leading up to the first Central Peninsula Polar Plunge on Saturday afternoon were filled primarily with the excited chatter of curious inquiry: "Are you jumping?" one attendee would ask another. This question was, more often than not, met with an emphatic and definite, "Hell no!"
Still, though sanity got the better of most of the crowd that turned out for the fundraiser, event coordinator Kelly Wolf estimates that around 100 people jumped, plunged, belly-flopped, and cannonballed into the pond in Daubenspeck Family Park to raise money for various local youth programs.
A large, rectangular chunk of the 20-inch thick ice was removed from an area near the pond's edge, revealing the murky, menacing water underneath. Three launching posts (i.e. rubber mats) were placed for the participants along the length of the opening, although most jumps occurred only two at a time.
Saturday saw the likes of a gladiator, a fairy princess, a wrestler, and other costumed individuals ham it up for the crowd before they leapt into the 34-degree pond water. A real-life lawyer even showed up to drench himself for the benefit of others, though dressed up he was not.
"It takes your breath away," Andy Pevehouse, an assistant public defender in Kenai, said of the experience. "Literally. You can't breathe."
Once in the water, shocked swimmers would scramble frantically for the overhanging ladder and emerge back onto land, where the air greeted them at a temperature hovering around 0 degrees.
"My brother kept telling me 'Go! Go! Go!'" said Danna Spring, 17, of jumping in with her older brother Remy Spring, 21. "So I was trying to get out as fast as I could, but your body just freezes up."
Though most people would probably have to be paid to do something this painfully uncomfortable, most participants of the Polar Plunge donated $100 -- either of their own money or that obtained through sponsorships -- to receive a sudden jolt to their core temperatures.
"I have no idea how much money we raised," said Wolf. "Not even a clue."
Less adventurous or able attendees could pay $50 to take the "dry plunge," which entailed having a photograph taken with the massive ice block that had earlier been removed from the pond. A small notch at the top of the block was carved out for the subject to rest their head in, thereby creating the illusion of a human ice cube.
All proceeds from the event will be distributed to local non-profits promoting youth programs. Friends of Athletes with Disabilities, Youth Restoration Corps, the Kenai Peninsula Native Youth Olympic Wolf Pack team, and Bridges Community Resource Network are the four entities that have been chosen to receive the earnings.
"We wanted to make sure that we could assist and help as many kids as we possibly could," Wolf said.
Though he doesn't yet know how much money was raised, Wolf counts the first Polar Plunge as a total success.
"I didn't expect this many people," he said of the crowd of 300 that showed up, "but obviously the central Peninsula supports the kids."
"You bet your cold feet we'll do it again next year," he added. "There will be many more to come."
Karen Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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