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At Goose Lake, more than 1,000 take a dive for a good cause

  • Author: Beth Bragg
    | Sports
  • Updated: January 30
  • Published December 16, 2017

Justine Soller shivered as she stood on frozen Goose Lake, her palm pressed against her cheek in a pose suggesting fear and consternation. In front of her was a 16-foot-by-16-foot pool of icy water created a day earlier by firefighters who used chain saws to slice through the lake's thick ice.

She frowned. She shook her head no. She cried a little.

Then she took the plunge.

Soller, 23, was one of more than 1,000 people who jumped into ice-cold water for Saturday's ninth annual Polar Plunge, a fundraiser that brought in about $300,000 for Special Olympics Alaska.

Soller was a repeat customer, a member of the Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority at UAA who made the leap for the first time last year.

It doesn't get easier with repetition, she said.

"It was harder this time because I was expecting it," Soller said. "You know the pain, (so) why are you doing this?

"… I was literally praying before I jumped in. I was crying."

Plungers caught a break from Mother Nature, who delivered a pleasant day by mid-December standards: no wind and temperatures in the high 20s.

Or as Angie Roland might say, bikini weather.

Roland, 55, flashed a lot of flesh for her Polar Plunge debut. She wore a skimpy two-piece swimsuit and water shoes with toes.

"My husband convinced me to do this naked," she said. He figured it would be easier to shed a wet swimsuit than an entire ensemble soaked in ice-cold water, she said.

Few went the swimsuit route, but many opted for costumes. Most people jumped in groups of three or four, including a trio consisting of a banana, a hot dog and Santa Claus, which begs to be the setup to a joke.

Rick Germaine, 61, jumped with a dozen people representing the Knights of Columbus from St. Benedict's Catholic Church. The group, which included an 83-year-old jumper, raised about $5,200.

"It's easier to raise the money than it is to get jumpers," Germaine said.

Tell that to the Service High Partners Club, which showed up with nearly 100 plungers dressed in green.

The club, made up of regular-curriculum students and special-education students who get together for sports and social activities, raised more than $23,000, said Adam Ahonen, a life skills teacher at Service High. The only team that raised more money was the Frigidaires, a group of mostly oil-and-gas industry workers that raised about $27,000.

As the huge group of Service kids moved closer to the hole, the ice around it began to sink. Water slopped out of the hole and spread across the surface.

"It's solid, but it's soft," Jay Bird of the Anchorage Fire Department said of the ice. He and several other firefighters spent the afternoon in and around the hole, poised to help as plungers splashed their way to ladders on the opposite side of the 6-foot-deep hole.

They also fished out various items left in the water — hats, eyeglasses, tutus.

Most plungers jumped feet-first, but Tara Acton, a member of the Playful Learning Pediatric Therapy team, did a front flip into the drink. "Gets it over with," she said.

Among the jumpers was at least one who is no stranger to cold — Nina Kemppel, a four-time Olympic skier who spent more than a decade of her life traveling from one cold spot to another as a cross-country skier for the U.S. Ski Team. She's also climbed her share of mountains, including Denali in 1995.

Kemppel, the CEO of the Alaska Community Foundation, jumped on behalf of Pick.Click.Give, which she said has raised about $180,000 for Special Olympics since 2009.

"I was expecting it to be cold, but not this cold," Kemppel said.  "Right now is about the coldest I've been."

With that, Kemppel headed to a big tent where three hot tubs awaited frozen plungers. A little while later, Soller made her way to a hot tub, where she made plans for next year as she defrosted.

"I will raise money," she said, "but I won't jump again."

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the amount of money raised for Special Olympics by Pick.Click.Give.

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