News Column

100 Hardy Swimmers Take the 'Polar Plunge'

Jan. 1, 2013

Pam Kelley

Nearly 100 people and several dogs charged into Lake Norman's chilly waters Tuesday afternoon.

Then, just seconds later, most did an about-face and charged back out.

The event, the annual Lake Norman Polar Plunge, is a five-year tradition that offers folks the chance to greet the new year in a most memorable way.

A quick, memorable way. For many participants, preparing for the dip took a lot longer than the plunge itself.

Shelley Strattman of Mooresville, for instance, made sparkly green mermaid costumes for herself, a friend and several family members. The women wore shell necklaces and green toenail polish and green-blue hair extensions. The costumes were so nice it seemed a shame to get them wet. Then there was Barton Jones of Mint Hill, who dressed himself in chain mail, a kilt and furs, a get-up he usually uses to do living-history demonstrations.

Both Jones and Strattman had plunged before. They knew what 50-degree water felt like.

But it was the first time for the Mitrani sisters, 10-year-old Lena and 7-year-old Soleil.

They'd been so excited they'd had trouble sleeping the night before, said their mom, Michelle Mitrani of Mooresville. Lena had outfitted herself smartly, in a wetsuit borrowed from a friend. Little sister Soleil wore a more eclectic outfit. It included a blue bathrobe over a light jacket and leggings, swim shoes on her feet and a cardboard "Happy New Year" crown on her head.

Their plan, they said, was to go in as far as their belly buttons.

The Polar Plunge was born five years ago, when Bo Watson and four friends decided to celebrate New Year's Day by jumping into Lake Norman.

"We literally did it as a goof," says Watson, a software executive in Mooresville who heads the Lake Norman Polar Bear Club.

Then they decided to make the event a charity fundraiser. To take the plunge, you donate $100. Donations so far this year total more than $10,000. The money goes to Stop Child Abuse Now, an Iredell County nonprofit that works with families at risk of child abuse and neglect.

This year, participants also used the event's banner to write notes of condolence and encouragement to victims of the recent Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. Organizers plan to deliver it to Newtown, Conn.

Tuesday's event was held on the 18th fairway of the Trump National Golf Club. It was gray and drizzly. But if you're jumping into a lake in January, drizzle hardly matters.

When it was time to plunge, participants -- adults, children and dogs -- assembled at the water's edge. Soleil removed her bathrobe and cardboard crown. Watson counted down to zero.

Into the water they went.

The Mitrani sisters made it to just above their knees.

And then they were out.

"Icy and cold," Lena announced.

Soleil's teeth chattered. She put her bathrobe back on. She replaced her crown. A few diehards lingered in the water. But most polar bears, including the Mitrani sisters, trudged back to the clubhouse.

From there, people headed home to take hot showers, change clothes, drink hot chocolate. Soleil said she was going to sit by the fire.

She and Lena didn't make it to their belly buttons. But there's always next year.


Distributed by MCT Information Services

Source: (c) 2013 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

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