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Braving the cold, taking the plunge

ARNOLDS PARK, Iowa -- It didn't feel much like January at the University of Okoboji Winter Games Saturday afternoon ... at least for most people.

For the brave folks who took the annual polar bear plunge off Queen II Dock and into chilly lake waters, however, it was probably a bit of a different story.

"I was pretty pumped up about it last (Friday) night," 21-year-old Brian Castle of Greene, Iowa, said, moments after stepping out of a hot tub soak that followed his jump. "As today went on, though, I got a bit nervous, but a lot of people were wanting to me to do it. Then, once you're on the dock, you've got to do it."

It was the first such adventure for Castle, who was one of 107 registrants for the event. The weather Saturday afternoon was cool, damp and foggy -- perhaps unpleasant for a few, but by no means arctic.

"This is by far the biggest spectator crowd we've ever had for this and by far the biggest crowd," said Bill Eich, the plunge's primary coordinator.

"We've been doing the spas and baths here and the polar plunge for eight or nine years," he added. "We do it for fun and a fundraiser for the Chamber. We just like to have a party and make the Winter Games fun for everyone."

As plunge participants waited for the start of the event, Dave Kunzman of Clear Lake, Iowa, was focused and ready for the cold water. He was about to do his first such dive at Okoboji, but his sixth overall.

"I've done my other five in Clear Lake, said Kunzman, standing bare-chested in the light drizzle. "It was seven degrees outside in the one I did this past December. My feet were frozen, that's for sure.

"One reason I keep doing these ... is that it's done for charity. In Clear Lake, it's all for Toys for Tots. Plus, you also do it for the heck of it, just for fun."

Melissa Suverkrubbe of Blair, Neb., took a polar bear plunge for the first time Saturday. While standing on the dock waiting her turn, she couldn't get one pre-occupation out of her mind.

"I was thinking, 'This is crazy, this is crazy,'" she said. "But it was published in the local paper that we'd jump, so we thought we needed to do it."

Melissa's husband, Nathan, took the plunge for the second time. In fact, the couple was accompanied by a host of other family members.

"We're going to make this a new family tradition, coming up to Okoboji in January," Nathan said,

The Winter Games, which began Friday and continued through Sunday, took place for the 26th time. Events such as snowball softball, broomball, snowmobiling and ice bowling, among a host of other activities, are part of the yearly fun.

Locations for a number of events, including the polar bear plunge, had to be changed due to low ice levels. The plunge was originally scheduled for Smith's Bay before changed to Mau Marine early last week. Then, on Friday afternoon, the site was switched again.

"It was a joint decision between the DNR and the Winter Games organizers," Eich said of the last-minute change. "This isn't the warmest we've had it here. One year we had it at 60 degrees at Winter Games, but we had more ice."

Hot tubs were set up just a few yards from the shore, and plungers in need of re-hearing could use them in exchange for a donation to the Arnolds Park Underwater Search and Rescue team. Taking the plunge -- then jumping in the spa -- was Castle's idea of a great time.

"This is the place to be, that's for sure," he said.

Ryan McGaughey

I first joined the Daily Globe in April 2001 as sports editor. I later became the news editor in November 2002, and the managing editor in August 2006. I'm originally from New York State, and am married with two children.

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