Polar bear plunge in Port Angeles draws hundreds
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Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
A crowd rushes into the water Tuesday morning from Hollywood Beach in Port Angeles.

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — The water was cold, but the air was colder at Tuesday's Port Angeles Polar Bear Plunge, where near-glassy water and a clean beach created “the best conditions we have ever seen,” said several plunge participants.

Screams and gasps could be heard from about 100 participants as the 47-degree water hit bare flesh at Hollywood Beach.

Once was apparently not enough for most, who ran into the water twice, some as many as five times.

A few went in up to their ankles, while most made it to chest-deep waters, and screeches could be heard from a few who either tripped, were dunked or dove under the water.

As they returned to land, a light wind hit exposed skin, turning arms, legs and torsos bright red as teeth chattered.

A group of girls took the plunge as a goodbye event for a friend, Abby Mayo, who was leaving town.

“She's leaving for Oklahoma tomorrow,” said Carly Jordan, 14, as the girls gathered near a beach bonfire before the dip began.

“We decided we would do something crazy,” Abby said.

Nearby, 2-year-old Madison Schmidt seemed uncertain of the situation as her bare toes met with wet sand.

“All she's been talking about is going in the cold water,” said the toddler's mother, Jamie Scott.

In the end, Jason Schmidt, 34, held his daughter — fully bundled on the beach — while Scott made the plunge.

Many gathered around the beach bonfire before and after the plunge.

In a warming tent, snacks and hot drinks were offered by Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County. Donations were requested.

The fundraising effort was a first for the annual plunge, now in its 25th year, said Dan Weldon, a plunge organizer.

Ken Brown, Hospice board president, said volunteers received donations of $176.

“Many cold hands and bodies were warmed by coffee, tea, hot chocolate and rolls, cookies and doughuts,” Brown said.

“We learned a lot and plan to be back at the beach next year,” he added.

Eight-year-old Hannah Anderson of Port Angeles also used the dip as a fundraiser.

The second-grader at Roosevelt Elementary called friends and relatives to sponsor her plunge, and raised $100, which her mother, Susan Anderson, said would be donated to a soup kitchen.

“She whines about walking from the car to the house in the rain, but she went in the water over her head,” said Anderson. “She was so brave.”

The Olympic Peninsula Rowing Association had two crews waiting to assist if needed.

The club was accompanied by Marty Martinez, a retired Coast Guard flight medic, who was suited up for cold water rescue and had an inflatable craft available.

“We're here to take care of the hardies,” said Marilyn Perkins, a member of the rowing club.

“Yeah, the fool-hardies,” said Colleen Brastad, laughing as she eyed nearby swimsuit-clad participants.

Lake Pleasant

Eight people jumped into the water at the Lake Pleasant Polar Bear Plunge 10 miles north of Forks, near the community of Beaver.

“There were lots of spectators. They just didn't want to go in,” said Carin Hirsch, mother of Sonja Hirsch, founder of the dip.

Five of them, including Carin Hirsch, leaped into lake waters at 10 a.m. and were followed by three late arrivals, she said.

She said that the wind was cold but that skies were clear, and it was a beautiful day to make the plunge.

“It was . . . refreshing,” Hirsch said.

Neah Bay

The northwesternmost Polar Bear Plunge in the contiguous U.S., at Neah Bay, also took place at 10 a.m., behind the Neah Bay Senior Center.

Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 01. 2013 6:12PM
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