Plunging into the New Year in Lake Michigan

 
By Gilbert R. Boucher II
gboucher@dailyherald.com
Updated 1/1/2017 4:52 PM
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  • Cubs fan Diane Cullen of Grayslake runs out of Lake Michigan in the 18th Annual Polar Bear Plunge Sunday at the Waukegan Municipal Beach. The event was sponsored by the City of Waukegan and the Waukegan Park District to support the Special Recreation Services of Northern Lake County.

      Cubs fan Diane Cullen of Grayslake runs out of Lake Michigan in the 18th Annual Polar Bear Plunge Sunday at the Waukegan Municipal Beach. The event was sponsored by the City of Waukegan and the Waukegan Park District to support the Special Recreation Services of Northern Lake County. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Newlyweds Eric Eggan and Rachel Johnson of Waukegan hold hands as they rush through the water during the 18th Annual Polar Bear Plunge on New Year's Day at the Waukegan Municipal Beach. The event was sponsored by the City of Waukegan and the Waukegan Park District to support the Special Recreation Services of Northern Lake County.

      Newlyweds Eric Eggan and Rachel Johnson of Waukegan hold hands as they rush through the water during the 18th Annual Polar Bear Plunge on New Year's Day at the Waukegan Municipal Beach. The event was sponsored by the City of Waukegan and the Waukegan Park District to support the Special Recreation Services of Northern Lake County. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Waukegan resident D.J. Allen bundles up as he watches the 18th Annual Polar Bear Plunge on New Year's Day at the Waukegan Municipal Beach. The event was sponsored by the City of Waukegan and the Waukegan Park District to support the Special Recreation Services of Northern Lake County.

      Waukegan resident D.J. Allen bundles up as he watches the 18th Annual Polar Bear Plunge on New Year's Day at the Waukegan Municipal Beach. The event was sponsored by the City of Waukegan and the Waukegan Park District to support the Special Recreation Services of Northern Lake County. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Divers from the Waukegan Fire Department greet plungers during the 18th Annual Polar Bear Plunge on New Year's Day at the Waukegan Municipal Beach. The event was sponsored by the City of Waukegan and the Waukegan Park District to support the Special Recreation Services of Northern Lake County.

      Divers from the Waukegan Fire Department greet plungers during the 18th Annual Polar Bear Plunge on New Year's Day at the Waukegan Municipal Beach. The event was sponsored by the City of Waukegan and the Waukegan Park District to support the Special Recreation Services of Northern Lake County. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

A lot of people find Lake Michigan too cold for swimming in summer. But more than 200 took the plunge on Sunday, marking New Year's Day and benefiting special recreation programs.

Both air and water temperatures were around 35 degrees as participants rushed and dived into the lake during the 18th Annual Polar Bear Plunge at Waukegan's Municipal Beach.

"This is stupid but I am going to do it anyway. It's for the children in Special Olympics," said Dan Reppert of Antioch, who was going in for the ninth year. "This is balmy compared to other years. Once you do it once you've got to do it again. It's exciting. Live your life a little."

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

Spectators dressed in heavy coats, gloves and hats as they watched men and women, some in swimsuits, run into the cold water and shake hands with Waukegan Fire Department divers standing 50 yards out.

"We are extremists. We like to start off the new year with a fresh start and to do a good deed, I have done the plunge myself about eight times," said Julie Schneider, manager of the Waukegan Park District. "We have found out over the years that for a lot of people it has almost become a family affair. It's a nice exhilarating way to start the new year."

The event kicked off at 10 a.m. with a countdown and a mad rush for the water, followed minutes later by a mad rush for a warm place and dry clothes. But all emerged with smiles on their faces after conquering the winter adventure.

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