By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Feb. 19 — The water temperature at Lake Arrowhead registered at 42 degrees the day before, but no one had taken the lake’s temp on Saturday morning.
“Oh, I’m sure it’s colder today,” Megan Gordon said while wrapped in a stocking cap and winter coat.
About 20 of the 35 folks registered for the fourth annual Polar Plunge stood along the beach at Lake Arrowhead huddled around barrel fires in sub-freezing temps, shivering even before they hit the water. Those absent chose to complete the inspiring challenge virtually, some even submitting videos even before the actual plunge into Lake Arrowhead.
“After going all virtual last year, we are offering a blend of virtual and in-person this year,” said Gordon, who serves as the program director for the Page Alliance for Community Action (PACA). Through sponsorships and registrations, PACA raised about $5,000 through Saturday’s bone-chilling event.
“I put myself through this torture because I believe PACA does a lot to support our community,” said former school superintendent Donna Whitley-Smith, “and I wanted to support them on this cold February day.”
PACA will use the funds raised to help support grant-funded programs when grant funding runs short, according to Gordon.
“We also raise a lot of awareness for PACA,” the event’s organizer said. “The funds do got to sustain prevention programs. We build a fund for when grants aren’t enough…It helps provide opportunities, free events for kids and families to keep them healthy and drug-free.”
The in-person event draws some interesting characters — even one dressed as Gumby. The majority seem more than a little apprehensive as they line up at the water’s edge, waiting for the starting horn. Yet, a few seem to embrace the moment.
“Why not?” said Gwynn Jones of Luray. “It’s something to push past the possibilities, and some people I know do this for therapy. So I thought it would be good for my muscles.”
Once the horn sounds, their goal is to be the first to reach the “snowflakes” on the side of two “icebergs” floating about 50 feet out in the icy waters of a mountain lake — in the dead of winter.
Stanley police officer Aaron Cubbage keeps telling himself he’s doing it for the right reasons.
“This is the second year that our team has done this because of what they do for our community and what they do for our kids,” Cubbage said.
But for others, the event — even Lake Arrowhead itself — takes on an even deeper meaning.
“This is a special lake to us,” said Chris and Leslie Lemons of Luray, who have taken the plunge all four years. They’ve also been married about four years…and this is where they took another plunge.
“We met at this lake, swimming out there training for the [Luray] triathlon,” Chris said. “We got engaged in this lake. I put the ring on my swimsuit and swam out and proposed…and then we got married overlooking this lake.
“This is a special lake to us.”
Others, just moments before sending a jolt to their adrenaline system, were still searching for answers as to why they were there, putting themselves through such an uncomfortable experience.
“You should ask my wife and her friend,” Dennis Albrecht said as he stood on Lake Arrowhead’s beach dressed as a deer (complete with antlers), while his wife Debra and her friend Kris donned the outfits of hunters. Dennis and Debra reside in Alexandria, but live part-time in Luray.
“We were here on New Year’s and heard about the Plunge,” Dennis said, “but it was 60 degrees here that day.”
“We walked around the lake that day and talked to people and found out about the Polar Plunge,” Debra added. “We wanted to get involved in Luray activities because we are new to the area.”
As the horn sounds, no one hesitates. Gumby and gang head straight into the near-freezing mountain lake in quest of paper snowflakes on one of two floating icebergs. Little time is wasted in the pursuit.
In a matter of seconds rather than minutes, the brave souls return to the beach to claim their prizes; once again huddling around the barrel fires. And while multiple towels and wraps do not subside the shivers, each participant was soon filled with the feeling of community spirit and the gratitude of helping others that quickly warmed them from the inside.
For more information about Page Alliance for Community Action,
see their website or check them out on Facebook.
SEE OUR PHOTO GALLERY FOR MORE IMAGES FROM SATURDAY’S POLAR PLUNGE.
Discussion with author of ‘Dreamland’ and ‘The Least of Us’, Sam Quinones, at LHS on Feb. 23
PACA plans annual Polar Plunge for Feb. 19
School administrator, PACA director featured on new podcast by Northwestern
PACA awarded No Kid Hungry grant to facilitate ‘porch visits’
PACA receives $125K grant to promote a ‘drug-free community’
PACA Sunflower Fun Run Sept. 12 at Ralph Dean Park
PACA awarded grant for 21st-century Community Learning Center at PCMS
PACA teams up with Valley Health to plant community garden
PACA’s Polar Plunge doubles in participation in second year
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