Freezin' for a reason: 20th annual Polar Bear Plunge benefits special recreation
As has become custom, hundreds of participants wearing bathing suits and wacky costumes started the New Year with a bracing plunge from Waukegan Municipal Beach into Lake Michigan.
But with a temperature near freezing Tuesday morning, the 2019 Polar Bear Plunge was memorable more for being the 20th anniversary of an event that benefits special recreation than for anything like the 25-below-zero wind chill the participants endured last year.
"We have no ice, but we do have waves," said Julie Schneider, who coordinates the event as manager of special recreation for the Waukegan Park District. "But that's what we're all about -- the arctic adventure."
Hosted by the Waukegan Park District and the city of Waukegan, the annual "Reason For The Freezin'" featured plungers of all ages, shapes and sizes.
Some were rookies, like Lynsey Gallagher from Kenosha, Wisconsin.
"Getting in the water is not so bad," she said. "It's getting out."
Die-hards like JoAnn Flores-Deter of Waukegan have made it an annual tradition.
"I've done this 20 times," she said. "It's cold. Your adrenaline is pumping. It helps."
Distinctive costumes, a perennial highlight, again were in evidence. They included unicorns and plenty of Bears-themed gear. One plunger used a giant toucan life preserver for balance.
Flores-Deter was at least one plunger registered who has participated in every polar dip, according to Schneider.
Other plungers included newly elected Lake County Sheriff John D. Idleburg, the Waukegan Junior and Little Miss queens, and the father of a special recreation participant, who was taking the icy dip for the first time and had raised $875. Last year's top fundraiser was on the way to another big year with more than $2,000 pledged for 2019, Schneider added.
Proceeds from the Waukegan Polar Bear Plunge go to the Special Recreation Services of Northern Lake County, an association of the Lindenhurst, Round Lake Area and Waukegan park districts. The association helps individuals with disabilities participate in year-round camps, athletics, health and fitness programs and activities, including programs and sports teams that compete in the Special Olympics of Illinois.