On Sunday, no one had to break the ice, but there were more than 100 people cavorting — briefly — in its 40-degree waters for the inaugural Polar Plunge to benefit the nonprofit Fort Ritchie Community Center, which counts among its offerings arts, health, fitness and educational programs. The event raised about $4,000 for programs at the center, said Kirsten Hubbard of Waynesboro, Pa., the center’s business manager.
“You just do it. I don’t know if there is any way to mentally prepare” for the plunge, said Andy Ashway of Chambersburg, Pa.
“It’s on the ‘bucket list.’ I can cross it off,” Ashway said about why he took the plunge. He wrapped his bare torso in a beach towel and headed into the warmth of the Lakeside restaurant.
Ashway’s wife, Karen, did not go for a dip, but their golden retriever Jake did. He seemed to shake off the experience as a wet dog normally would.
Chad Zimmerman of Waynesboro, Pa., did what he could to prepare.
“I did a little research online and the advice was, when you get into the water, count to eight,” Zimmerman said. “The cold is a shock to your system, and if you can’t breathe after eight seconds, you need to get out and get warmed up. I got to six. We were good to go.”
“It lowered the core temperature a bit,” Sen. David Brinkley, R-Frederick/Carroll, said after emerging from the frigid water.
Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, took a more cautious approach, removing one shoe to test the waters.
“I just stuck a toe in,” Shank said.
His 7-year-old son, Joshua was a bit more aggressive, doffing both shoes.
“It was horrible. It was so cold,” said Mary Fran of Fairfield, Pa. However, it was worth it to raise money for the community center. Her son, Logan, also got into the water up to about his chest before retreating.
After getting out of the lake, most of the 120 participants and about as many supporters retreated to the warmth of the bonfire by the lake or the Lakeside at Fort Ritchie, the restaurant that Hubbard said provided hot chocolate and crab soup to warm the swimmers’ insides.
Sam Cool, president of Pen Mar Development Corp., raised the most money individually with $650, Hubbard said. A team from Total Rehab Care in Hagerstown raised the most money as a group, she said, though she did not have the total figure.
Children also got to pose inside with a polar bear wearing sunglasses.
An Advanced Life Support unit from Smithsburg was on hand to handle any emergencies, but only one person was hurt and it had nothing to with the swim, said Smithsburg Deputy EMS Chief James Ulrich. A man hurt his leg when he tripped, he said.