Kayla Breese/River News
Eighty people, including 30 first-timers, plunged into frigid Spirit Lake in Three Lakes Saturday afternoon as part of the Northwoods Original Polar Plunge benefiting the cancer charity Angel on My Shoulder.
1/10/2017 7:29:00 AM Brrr! Jumpers brave frigid temperatures at Three Lakes polar plunge
Kayla Breese Feature Writer
On a day when most people would be forgiven if they chose to do nothing more than burrow under their blankets, 83 people participated in the 17th annual Northwoods Original Polar Plunge Saturday, bravely jumping into icy Spirit Lake in Three Lakes to raise money for the cancer charity Angel on My Shoulder.
The 2017 Polar Plunge will go down in the books as the second coldest in the event's history.
The temperature at Bonnie's Lakeside was roughly 2 degrees, with west northwest winds at 10 to 20 miles per hour. The cold was so intense that event founder and organizer Mike Wolf was nervous about how many people would attend.
"I thought the turnout was awesome," he said. "In all honesty, I thought this morning when we had this weather we were going to have nothing. It was nerve-wrecking."
Not surprisingly, the weather is often frigid on plunge day, but Wolf said this Saturday was the second coldest on record.
"The (coldest) one I think was probably year three or four and that was crazy, to the point where when people got out of the water their clothes froze immediately," he said. "Now it was cold today but it was the windchill that was more or less the factor."
Organizers prepared for the cold weather by setting up a heated tent on the ice - the first time they've done that - so soaked jumpers could warm up a bit before scrambling to the hot tubs on land.
Wolf also noted there was a "sea of people" on the ice, cheering on the jumpers.
"There's a few hundred sleds on the ice, there's people all over, and it was awesome this year because there were 14 inches of ice and everybody was able to get right up close to everything going on which was really cool," Wolf said. "It really was a good year considering the fact that it was so cold out."
The conditions last year were quite different, with 3 inches of ice, water sitting on top and bystanders stuck on shore.
It was cold enough this year that organizers had to skim ice off the hole right before the first jumper plunged, when normally they can do it a half hour prior.
"Not only was it skimming over with ice but it was actually building ice right there," Wolf said, adding his gratitude for the Three Lakes Fire Department's dedication and quick work, as well as Pier of d'Nort for putting in and taking out the pier in the chilly conditions.
"It's cold out there, it's cold out there and all these people come together and all these people do that, and all these people are still here and participating without question, that's kind of the cool part about it," Wolf said. "They're here doing the work and it's cold and they're still here. We still have the people jumping, we still have the people hanging out for raffles, it's amazing that people will still come together when they need to and they do every year."
Two foreign exchange students, one from Italy and the other from New Zealand, took the plunge this year, along with 28 other first-timers.
"The look on their face was the look of pure sheer terror," Wolf said. "It's one thing to jump in, but one thing to realize what you just jumped into. I mean it's New Zealand, it's warm all the time right?"
Damian Kruse, a first-time jumper for this plunge but who has jumped twice elsewhere, thought the jump went well.
"It wasn't bad, I enjoyed this one," he said.
Temperature-wise this was the coldest jump he's participated in, but he didn't think it felt too bad.
He and his girlfriend, Courtney Newton, jumped in memory of Newton's grandmother, LuAnn Newton, who participated in Angel On My Shoulder. This is the family's first year without LuAnn Newton, who fought breast cancer 17 years ago, and passed away nearly a year ago from a stroke months after being diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian and cervical cancer.
Newton and Kruse's daughter, Jessica Fandre, will be attending an Angel On My Shoulder camp next year when she is 8 years old.
"I think it's wonderful (that Jessica gets the chance to participate in camp)," Newton said. "She needs that, she needs that support of other people who have been affected by cancer, those other kids who have grown up losing a loved one to cancer. She needs to know that there are other people there and other people who can help her."
Newton loves Angel On My Shoulder and encourages others to jump. The money raised at the event helps fund the cancer charity's camps, allowing children whose families have been affected by cancer to enjoy a retreat and bond with other kids whose loved ones have cancer.
"It's a wonderful organization to support," she said. "Anybody who wants a good time come out here and the fact is everyone who jumps sends another kid to those camps and those kids need it, they need that support for their family, they need that support for themselves."
Ashley Pluedeman is a second-year jumper and she felt the chill this year.
"It was cold, really, really cold, much colder than last year," she said.
She works in pediatrics and said that was a driving force in her decision to jump.
Pluedeman has a reminder for those who are considering participating next year.
"Just keep in mind that it's for a good cause and it's only a couple seconds of your life so just go for it and do it," she said. "You only live once."
Pluedeman's friend, Christin Olsen, plunged for the first time this year.
"I thought it was pretty invigorating," Olsen said. "She (Ashley) did it the first time and she's like 'All right, you got to do this with me' and so I did and I don't know I think it's pretty cool."
She encourages people to go for it and try the plunge, and that it wasn't as bad as she thought it was going to be.
"I think everybody should try it at least once," Olsen said.
It was a good year for the plunge, and with everyone's donations and efforts, the pledges totaled $23,267.45, the 50/50 was $750 take home ($750 went to Angel On My Shoulder), the 30-hour broadcast raised $18,100, Russ "Moses" Huizeinga was the top fundraiser with $5,537, and the top team was Eagle River Roasters Mocha Minions and they raised $3,257.85.
The total amount raised at this year's plunge was $43,697.45, topping last year's final total which was $39,409.47.
"We raised enough money between our 30-hour broadcast and the plunge today to probably send 100 kids to camp and so that right there in itself is money Angel On My Shoulder doesn't have to take money out of their bank account, plain and simple," Wolf said. "They're great people, they're strong people, everybody that's involved with it is wonderful and people. It's a great charity, it really is, and we've been proud to be part of it them for 17 years."
Out of every $1 donated, $0.97 goes to Angel on My Shoulder, and those who attend meetings on behalf of the organization pay their own way.
Kayla Breese may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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