The temperature registered around 6 degrees as Greg Rowland, 36 and wearing a shiveringly skimpy swimsuit, hopped into Anchorage’s Goose Lake on Saturday morning. Rowland, along with his family, Lyndsay Kotalik 33, and Ben Weaver, 14, were all taking part in this year’s Polar Plunge, an annual fundraising event for the Special Olympics Alaska.
“I do comedy locally,” Rowland said. "So, I’ll do anything for a laugh, which is part of why I’ve got this suit on.”
Kotalik decided she wanted to take on the plunge, and convinced Rowland and Weaver to join her. But back when they all agreed, temperatures were still just around freezing in Anchorage. On Saturday, Rowland said he was a little more apprehensive than when he first committed.
But the day’s events would soon become a good story to tell, Kotalik said.
“Oh yeah, when we talk about it later, it will be great,” she said.
From moose suits to Santa hats, elaborately dressed leapers lined up in droves, awaiting the icy throes of the lake as onlookers stood bundled while watching the sloshing and splashing.
The hundreds of jumpers mostly waited in a heated tent as their teams were called. When they were next up, the groups were ushered into the crisp morning, watching as those ahead flung themselves into the 4-foot deep lake.
A rectangular hole was cut into Goose Lake, and emergency responders stood in the water, helping the shivering jumpers back out. With the sun hanging low over the mountains, golden light illuminated the steam coming off participants as they ran to towels and the warmth of a hot tub inside the tent.
A group of Eagle River High School students from student government and the Partner’s Club stood in superhero costumes, awaiting their turn. Megan Miles had done the jump before. But Haley Lucas was new to it, and said she was pretty scared. Jeff Malone said he was just excited for the hot tub. And LaDavien Simon said he wanted to go home.
But when the time came, Simon took the plunge, tucking his knees into his chest and creating a major splash.
After getting out of the hot tub, super hero suit now waterlogged, Simon said the cannonball wasn’t such a good idea, as he had immediately hit the lake’s bottom. But the experience didn’t totally dissuade him.
“Yeah," Simon said, "I’ll do it next year.”
As Rowland had expected, the time waiting outside was the coldest, he said. From the hot tub, Kotalik, Weaver and Rowland sat with chattering teeth, reflecting on the brief but brutal moments in the cold. The water itself wasn’t actually that cold, Kotalik said.
“Like everything else that’s scary," Rowland said. "It will be a lot more awesome tomorrow than it was yesterday.”