Polar Bear Plunge draws hundreds to Waukegan lakefront
At 36 degrees, the water temperature Friday morning was higher than the air temperature at Waukegan Municipal Beach, making a chilling dip a respite of sorts for hundreds who jumped into Lake Michigan for a good cause.
Still, the wind chill hovered in the teens and those who dared -- and hundreds more who lined the beach to cheer and snap pictures of friends and loved ones -- agreed the 17th annual Polar Bear Plunge was a memorable experience.
"It was different. Definitely different. My teeth felt like bricks," said Javel Cosby, a specialist in the U.S. Army from Fort Riley, Kansas, who was visiting family for the holidays. Like many others, Cosby was a first-time plunger and took some convincing from his friend, Lowrences Rivera, who was in town from Florida.
"It was on my bucket list," explained Rivera, 24.
The event is hosted by the city of Waukegan and the Waukegan Park District on behalf of Special Recreation Services of Northern Lake County. The agency offers programs and team and individual sports for special recreation athletes.
"This year is like tropical. We have open water," said Julie Schneider, manager of special recreation for the park district. About 400 signed up and more continued to trickle in near the 11 a.m. deadline. Each paid $15 in advance or $20 on Friday.
"This has been a little easier than other years," said city spokesman David Motley, who carried on a running commentary broadcast over a loudspeaker. "We've had to deal with ice, rain, snow -- all manner of mayhem," he added. A bonfire on the frozen sand was a welcome new addition.
"It's something I've always wanted to do and it's for a good cause," said Kimi Picard, 27, a first-timer who was with a group of 16 from the North Avenue Tap in Waukegan. "I find this exhilarating. I'm excited to do it."
For many, like the Mundelein Polar Bear Club, it was a group experience. More than two dozen, including six kids aged 8 to 13, gave it a try. Mundelein village Trustee Holly Kim organized the outing.
"It's a club that meets once a year and then we eat hot food," she said.
Besides bikinis and swim suits, the gathering featured an array of costumes and other distinguishing attire and head gear, including crowns, wolf and horses heads and a top hat. Shanelle Garrett of North Chicago was dressed head to toe in a distinctive light blue Cookie Monster costume "onesy" and her four friends were similarly attired.
"This should be a breeze as long as this one doesn't pull me down," she said of her friend, Alisa Kempers.
Magda Yarza of Waukegan said she wanted to start the year off right.
"This is very challenging for me. I get cold in the summer," she said. She liked it so much that she readied for a second dip. "It was great," she said.
Another trademark of the event is that participants are much more chatty before they enter the water.
Mia Hassan, 18, of Round Lake Beach came with her father, Rob, her sister, Julia, 16, and a friend, Camryn Gunn, 16, of Lindenhurst.
"It's on my bucket list. It was a last minute thing," Mia said before running waist deep into the water. And after? "Yeah, it was good," she said before darting off.