Freezin' for a reason: 20th annual Polar Bear Plunge benefits special recreation

  • Libertyville resident Robert Zanze was among more than 100 hardy souls who braved the cold waters of Lake Michigan on Tuesday for the 20th annual Polar Bear Plunge to raise funds for Waukegan Special Recreation Services helping individuals with disabilities.

      Libertyville resident Robert Zanze was among more than 100 hardy souls who braved the cold waters of Lake Michigan on Tuesday for the 20th annual Polar Bear Plunge to raise funds for Waukegan Special Recreation Services helping individuals with disabilities. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • The 20th annual Polar Bear Plunge challenge was met by more than 100 enthusiastic participants like Shawn White of Zion who wanted to do good for the Waukegan Special Recreation Services.

      The 20th annual Polar Bear Plunge challenge was met by more than 100 enthusiastic participants like Shawn White of Zion who wanted to do good for the Waukegan Special Recreation Services. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Peter Bonate of Libertyville dressed as Superman to take the 20th annual Polar Bear Plunge on Tuesday in Lake Michigan.

      Peter Bonate of Libertyville dressed as Superman to take the 20th annual Polar Bear Plunge on Tuesday in Lake Michigan. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Eric Bonilla of Waukegan and his girlfriend, Lynsey Gallagher of Kenosha, Wisconsin, embrace during the Polar Bear Plunge on Tuesday. "Getting in the water is not so bad," Gallagher said. "It's getting out."

      Eric Bonilla of Waukegan and his girlfriend, Lynsey Gallagher of Kenosha, Wisconsin, embrace during the Polar Bear Plunge on Tuesday. "Getting in the water is not so bad," Gallagher said. "It's getting out." Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Lake County Sheriff John D. Idleburg makes his way back to shore after taking the Polar Bear Plunge on Tuesday in Waukegan.

      Lake County Sheriff John D. Idleburg makes his way back to shore after taking the Polar Bear Plunge on Tuesday in Waukegan. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • The Force was with Waukegan resident Matt Muthowski during his Polar Bear Plunge on Tuesday in Waukegan.

      The Force was with Waukegan resident Matt Muthowski during his Polar Bear Plunge on Tuesday in Waukegan. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Chris Burns from Gurnee brings a fun flotation device to the Polar Bear Plunge on Tuesday in Waukegan.

      Chris Burns from Gurnee brings a fun flotation device to the Polar Bear Plunge on Tuesday in Waukegan. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Monika Surovych of Franklin Park and her friends brave the cold water Tuesday during the Polar Bear Plunge in Lake Michigan.

      Monika Surovych of Franklin Park and her friends brave the cold water Tuesday during the Polar Bear Plunge in Lake Michigan. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 1/1/2019 6:48 PM

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."

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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.

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