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Article updated: 1/1/2012 6:13 PM

450 take the Polar Bear Plunge into Lake Michigan

Melanie Ricchetti of Great Lakes Naval Station dressed as a polar bear for a dip in the frigid waters of Lake Michigan during the 13th Annual Polar Bear Plunge Sunday in Waukegan. Ricchetti's mother made the costume for her specifically for the event.

Melanie Ricchetti of Great Lakes Naval Station dressed as a polar bear for a dip in the frigid waters of Lake Michigan during the 13th Annual Polar Bear Plunge Sunday in Waukegan. Ricchetti's mother made the costume for her specifically for the event.

 

Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Greg Whipple of Lindenhurst dressed as Batman during the 13th Annual Polar Bear Plunge Sunday in Waukegan. The event benefits Special Recreation Services of Northern Lake County.

Greg Whipple of Lindenhurst dressed as Batman during the 13th Annual Polar Bear Plunge Sunday in Waukegan. The event benefits Special Recreation Services of Northern Lake County.

 

Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Joe Morris, 17, of Waukegan, and Gabi Turcotte, 16, of Buffalo Grove take a casual stroll into the frigid waters of Lake Michigan during the 13th Annual Polar Bear Plunge Sunday in Waukegan.

Joe Morris, 17, of Waukegan, and Gabi Turcotte, 16, of Buffalo Grove take a casual stroll into the frigid waters of Lake Michigan during the 13th Annual Polar Bear Plunge Sunday in Waukegan.

 

Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Costumed Daniel Reppert, left, of McHenry and John Sota of Zion lead a crowd out of the water during the 13th Annual Polar Bear Plunge Sunday in Waukegan.

Costumed Daniel Reppert, left, of McHenry and John Sota of Zion lead a crowd out of the water during the 13th Annual Polar Bear Plunge Sunday in Waukegan.

 

Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Rebecca Battisford, left, and Jailene Leal, both of Winthrop Harbor, shiver as they come out of the water during the 13th Annual Polar Bear Plunge Sunday in Waukegan.

Rebecca Battisford, left, and Jailene Leal, both of Winthrop Harbor, shiver as they come out of the water during the 13th Annual Polar Bear Plunge Sunday in Waukegan.

 

Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Alex Mancilla of Elgin wears a suit as he runs out of the water after a frigid morning dip during the 13th Annual Polar Bear Plunge Sunday in Waukegan.

Alex Mancilla of Elgin wears a suit as he runs out of the water after a frigid morning dip during the 13th Annual Polar Bear Plunge Sunday in Waukegan.

 

Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

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By Gilbert R. Boucher II

Bravery or lunacy? Whatever you attribute it to, the 450 people who plunged into Lake Michigan Sunday won both bragging rights for themselves and benefits for special recreation in Lake County.

Though temperatures were around freezing and winds gusted to 35 mph, participants at least didn't have to break through ice to take the 13th Annual Polar Bear Plunge Sunday at Waukegan's Municipal Beach.

It's going to be a little chilly but it could be a lot worse," said Pat Carrick of Antioch, shivering as he stared at the cold water and waited to go in for his first Polar Bear Plunge.

"It's for a good cause and I always wondered what these crazy people did out here and now I am going to figure it out for myself," he said.

Proceeds from the event go to Special Recreation Services of Northern Lake County, funding recreation program scholarships for individuals with special needs.

Observers dressed in heavy coats, gloves and winter caps as they watched Santa Claus, Batman, polar bears, Father Time, and many other costumed participants make the plunge into the cold water.

"One of the great things about this is that everyone is excited and we get a lot of people with lots of crazy and very creative costumes and that adds to the excitement and the fun of the event," said Kari Robinson, of the Waukegan Park District Special Recreation Department. "We get lots and lots of people who come out to watch their friends. So, there is lots of loud cheering and everyone is in a good mood."

The event kicked off at 10 a.m., when the sounding of a horn sent the first wave of about 50 people toward the waves. Most went about 50 yards into the surf before rushing back to find a warm place and dry clothes, but all emerged laughing after conquering the winter adventure.

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