By Sean Eshelman
Special to The Alpine Mountaineer
Charity can make people do some pretty crazy things. Some people choose to run marathons. Others will give up a weekend just to feed the hungry in their time of need. Here on the mountain, some of us jump in cold water.
Last Saturday, Feb. 5, I joined many other brave souls for the 13th annual PolaRotary Bear Plunge, an event that involves jumping into the waters of Lake Arrowhead in the dead of winter. The event is designed to benefit the Lake Arrowhead Rotary Club, as well as a variety of other local charitable organizations that provide services here on the mountain.
“Jo Bonita (Rains) asked if you’ll jump for Rim Education Foundation next week,” my wife and Rim Ed board member, Sara Green, asked two weeks before.
“By the way, you don’t say ‘no’ to Jo Bonita,” she warned.
“How did I get roped into this?” I thought as I woke up early to meet the other participants at the Lake Arrowhead Resort. It was about 41 degrees – not the coldest day I’ve experienced, but staying in bed this morning definitely sounded more appealing.
We arrived at the Resort at 9 a.m. to a lobby filled with hundreds of other participants. The sheer amount of people was unexpected – who knew jumping in ice water was so popular?
After checking in and the necessary housekeeping with the Rotary Club, I joined my cohorts with the Rim of the World Educational Foundation, the group my jump was intended to benefit and was quickly greeted by its fiery president, Jo Bonita Rains.
“Are you ready, Mr. Eshelman?” she asked me, her stature greatly overshadowed by her presence.
There was no way I was saying “no” to this woman. This was a moment commanded by fear, and respect. I was committed.
I was given a bright blue “I’m a Superhero” cape with matching mask which I immediately donned with pride. This is what superheroes do.
Indeed, the Rim Ed Foundation is one of many “Superhero” charities on the mountain that participated in this year’s event. Known primarily for their ROP and AVID programs that assist and prepare students for life after high school, Rim Ed provides vital services for students throughout the mountain.
Like soldier ants, we followed the other jumpers down to the conference area, where photos were taken on the Lake Arrowhead Rotary Club backdrop. We made the best superhero poses we could muster and our pictures were taken.
With pictures completed, we started down the path from the conference area, past the beckoning call of the steamy jacuzzis to the beach where we would be taking our plunges.
Isn’t there a charity that involves hot tubs?
By this time, the nervousness was taking hold. Soon we would be in icy-cold water as spectators laughed and cheered.
“My strategy is to not think about it,” I heard one participant ahead of us say.
“What were we thinking when we signed up for this?” I heard another say.
After our brief hike down the resort pathway to the beach, we met our congregation of plungers. One after the other, participants were announced, along with their chosen charity, before they made their heroic beach-run into Lake Arrowhead.
It was like D-Day in reverse.
A chorus of cheers rose from the crowd to greet the jumpers who had hit the water moments before, walking like zombies out of the frigid water towards the warmth of inside.
Am I making it clear that it felt like a beach invasion?
We all wanted to get this over with, and quickly realized that it was first-come-first-served. If we wanted to go, we need to get assertive. So we moved up toward the beginning of the line.
“OK, WE’RE UP,” I heard Steve Valentine, Rim Ed board member shout. It was time for our group to make the next assault in the name of education. He might as well have made his announcement from a wartime trench along with a whistle.
We made our way down to the beach of the Lake Arrowhead Resort. The air and sand beneath our feet was cold and the atmosphere elevated with excitement. I could see the beach stretched out ahead of us.
“Next up is the crew from Rim Educational Foundation!” and before I knew it, the rest of the crew and I were lined up and staged to be the next jumpers of the event.
There was no more time to think. We all lurched ahead, knowing our purpose. As I started ahead, I could see the cold waters ahead of me. Next to the water, I could see the previous jumpers, arms rigid at the side of their bodies as an indicator of their experience of the cold.
My fear of the cold was overcome by the need to get past it. I ran as fast as I could toward the water and, just before hitting a knee’s depth, I launched myself head first into the Lake.
The water hit like cold spikes. I was out of the water almost as soon as I was in, the water hitting me hard.
I emerged from the water to cheers from my wife and the rest of the folks of the Rim Ed Foundation. Yes, it was cold.
I didn’t even wait for my towel. Up the pathway and back to the Resort spa I trudged where a warm shower awaited me.
A nice gentleman handed me a shot of peach schnapps on my way up. It gave me the warmth I needed to make the 100-yard trip to the showers.
I could hear the triumphant chatter of other jumpers as I walked up. We had done it. We conquered the fear of the cold.
After showering and rejoining my cohorts, we recapped our experiences. Everyone was feeling elated, partly because of the effects of cold water. But really, what drove our sense of euphoria was the fact that we gave back.
It may seem silly or downright crazy to do what we did, but after the 13th annual PolaRotary Bear Plunge, doing good for the community never felt so warm.