Mary Dixon: It's cold and snowy in Chicago. If you're a Chicago polar bear, that sounds like heaven. Despite the freezing temps, hundreds took the plunge into Lake Michigan over the weekend, all in the name of charity. WBEZ's Michael Puente explains.
Michael Puente: For Bob Hack, it was his eighth time. For his friend Terry Magnuson, it was his second. And neither had much strategy on how to handle it. It being the bone-chilling waters of Lake Michigan. For me, I just wanted to know why?
You're about to go into the water?
Bob Hack: I am.
Michael Puente: Why?
Bob Hack: It’s a great charity. They deserve the support. They don’t get a lot of support from the city and they need the support. And these families need the support.
Michael Puente: But why?
Bob Hack: Because this what we do? Right, we're crazy.
Michael Puente:But why?
Bob Hack: Try it! You’ll like it!
Michael Puente: Hack says there’s no preparing for what’s about to hit you, you just dive in. But his friend, Magnuson says he was able to prepare.
Terry Magnuson: Cold showers is the way, a month before this. Really cold showers.
Michael Puente: So you do gotta prepare?
Terry Magnuson: You get acclimated to that temperature. That’s a lot colder than the shower but it’s only a minute and, like Bob said, it’s a great charity.
Michael Puente: The charity is the Chicago Polar Bear Club. In the early 2000s, Brian Marshall got the idea to jump into the lake to raise funds for a loved one.
Brian Marshall: Well, I found out that one of my cousins needed a double lung transplant, and I come from a really big family. So our family raised money for my cousin and her husband. And we figured if we know somebody, you must know somebody. So we just decided to help other people since they helped us.
Michael Puente: Whether to raise money or just to do something extreme, folks from all ages and walks of life stripped down to nearly nothing and took the plunge. Okay, some wore Viking outfits, tutus or even a shark suit but most were nearly naked standing in the cold and snow at Oak Street Beach. Chris Prouty just moved from L.A. and wore matching pink speedos along with his friend.
Chris Prouty: Oh, we planned this at least two months ago. We were like, we are going to do this. Everyone thought we were crazy. We were like nope, we’re absolutely going to do this.
Michael Puente: What do you do to mentally prepare for this?
Chris Prouty: I don’t think there really is a set plan. I think you just kind of accept it and just run.
Michael Puente: Lorna Juett took her first plunge last year, but the sun was out. On this day, it’s gray with brisk winds and blowing snow.
Lorna Juett: So this is very different. We had a beautiful view over the Hancock Building and today you can barely see it.
Michael Puente: Did the sun make a difference?
Lorna Juett: Absolutely!
Michael Puente: Oh it did? Alright.
Lorna Juett: Well, we'll find out!
Michael Puente: As the stroke of noon gets closer, many just grinned and beared it as the high waves crashed against the frozen sandy shore. Plenty of EMS folks were standing by. Everything is done in a safe and orderly fashion. Then, the moment arrives …
Polar Plunger: LET’S GOOOOO!!!
Michael Puente: At this point some are still second guessing their decision.
Polar Plunger: Oh my god! Why did I do this!? I’m so irrational!
Polar Plunger: Why did I do this? I don’t know.
Michael Puente: Make no mistake, no one is spending much time in the water. It’s jump in, get out. Everything happens in less than 30 seconds to a minute. Some were feeling invigorated by the plunge, and there were many whole families who participated. Like Cynthia Egas who came out with her parents.
Cynthia Egas: We did it for the charity. Honestly, it’s an amazing experience. I think everyone should do it once in your lifetime.
Michael Puente: Her mother, Beatrice Yunda, a native of Ecuador, says the feeling you get from jumping into a freezing cold lake lasts for a while.
Beatrice Yunda: You know, it’s a feeling that's hard to describe. Keeps you happy for two weeks. And that is very nice. It’s adrenaline, 100%.
Michael Puente: Organizers say more than 500 people took the plunge and raised over $60,000, the most ever in its 22 year history. Michael Puente, WBEZ News.
WBEZ transcripts are generated by an automatic speech recognition service. We do our best to edit for misspellings and typos, but mistakes do come through.