By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Feb. 18 — The air temperature at Lake Arrowhead hovered around 42 degrees. The wind made it feel slightly cooler, and the water temperature — whether in the lake, or in water balloons — was only slightly warmer than the air.
For the 40 or more participants in Luray’s 5th annual Polar Plunge on Saturday, they may argue that the mountain lake was even colder. For the seven local “celebrities” that volunteered for the “Polar Blast” side show prior to the actual plunge, the water balloons definitely felt colder.
Seven local politicians seeking office in November sat underneath large water balloons, while folks took turns throwing balls at a bullseye that would release the balloon. Among those who volunteered for the “Polar Blast” to help raise funds for Page Alliance for Community Action were Sheriff Chad Cubbage and his challenger this fall Stanley Police Captain Aaron Cubbage, Clerk of the Circuit Court Grayson Markowitz and his challenger Stephanie Breeden, Commissioner of the Revenue Becky Smith, Treasurer Penny Gray, and Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Cave. They were also joined by Luray Police Chief “Bow” Cook, Luray Town Manager Steven Burke, local taxidermist Robert Jenkins and Jeff Courtney of the Shenandoah Police Department.
“That was a big hit,” PACA program director Megan Gordon said on Saturday. “Spectator numbers were definitely up this year.”
Participation in the local plunge has dropped off since its peak prior to the pandemic when 150 participants plunged into Lake Arrowhead in February of 2020 for the second annual event that raised more than $8,000. Some plungers have participated virtually since the COVID pandemic, and that includes this year.
Bruce Peters and Trish Shannon of Page County took the plunge in person to support the cause, and to get to know their neighbors.
“It’s a bucket list item, and it’s something unique to do in the community,” Trish said.
“There’s the challenge of it, and then just meeting everybody in the community,” Bruce added, “just chatting.”
Kim Courtney has plunged three of the last five years in Luray, but she’s also somewhat of a professional plunger having also participated in five plunges in Virginia Beach to support the Special Olympics. She won a free round of gold for her efforts on Saturday.
Second-year plunger Ethan Hornstra of Luray stands near a fire talking with three ladies while wearing a unicorn head and a rainbow tutu.
“I’m a glutton for punishment,” Ethan says of the chilly waters. “The first time I was kind of competitive, trying to get to the iceberg…this time I wore all this just to get somer smiles on people’s faces.”
He did the same when he appeared at PACA’s Turkey Trot in November dressed as an inflatable turkey. Although his unicorn attire lost the in the costume contest to the horror-film character “Chuckie”, Ethan retains his good cheer.
The “snowflakes” he mentioned are attached to an “iceberg” floating out in Lake Arrowhead. Participants must reach the iceberg and grab the snowflakes to win such as prizes as date night at the Mimslyn Inn, gift certificates to local shops like Willow Grove and the Virginia Gift Shop, a round of golf at the Luray Country Club, and one quiche a month for one year from Main Street Bakery.
Will Daniels won tickets to see the Washington Nationals play at Nats Park. This is his fourth Luray Polar Plunge.…and he’s still uncertain about why he endures the freezing mountain lake each February.
“That’s a good question,” Daniels laughs. “It’s partly craziness…and it’s partly PACA. It’s a great organization, and I want to support PACA.”
PACA is using the thousands raised during the event to build up the organization’s general fund in order to sustain programs currently funded through grants.
“We have grant funding that runs out in a couple of years,” Gordon said. “So the funds are going to make sure we can sustain those programs.”
The Page County non-profit receives $125,000 annually from Drug-Free Community grants that run out after 10 years. PACA is currently in its eighth year of receiving those funds, which run in two consecutive five-year cycles. The grant program is designed to give local organizations time to become self-sufficient.
“We are building coalitions in the community to find ways to sustain our programs,” Gordon added.
A group of students from James Madison University — one dressed as Captain America and another as a princess — attended Saturday’s polar plunge from the JMU chapter of A Moment of Magic, a national organization that works to “improve the quality of life of vulnerable and under-served children and inspiring them to be brave, strong and fearless,” according to chapter president Aly Coppage.
“We work with PACA a lot because they support kids who are vulnerable and under-served…so we show our support,” Coppage said.
PACA plans to host its second Cardboard Boat Regatta in August and the fourth annual Sunflower Festival in September. On April 22, they will host the Earth Day 5K. A Virginia Fund for Healthy Youth grant will make sure all elementary and middle school students can participate for free.
On Saturday, Barb Stewart was supporting the “Purple Plungers” representing Choices, Page County’s Council on Domestic Violence. Although she once took part in a real plunge off the coast of Antarctica during the 100th anniversary of the first expedition to the South Pole, she is leaving today’s plunging up to team captain Heather Sours, the new director of Choices.
“It was really nice to see so many people out to support PACA…local politicians, local celebrities to sit in the Polar Burst, and I love the kids being here, having fun and taking part,” Gordon said. “The Town of Luray has been a great partner in this event, and it’s a fun event to have in winter.”
The experience was different for everyone, for some a way to come together in the spirit of helping a community non-profit, for others a bucket list item…and for others it just wasn’t that big of a deal to jump into the water in the middle of winter.
It certainly didn’t scare young Victoria Shoop of Luray.
“I like cold water,” she said, still shivering on the Lake Arrowhead beach beneath a heavy beach towel.
For more information about PACA, visit their website