Jumping into a cold lake for a warm cause
By Sean Eshelman
Special to The Alpine Mountaineer
In an annual show of generosity during one of the year’s coldest months, the PolaRotary Bear Plunge took place last Saturday, Feb. 4 in Lake Arrowhead on the sandy shores of the Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa. In a show of solidarity, this reporter also took the plunge.
This year marks the 14th year in which charity-minded individuals both on and off the mountain have gathered and, in a show of both courage and grit, jumped into the icy waters of Lake Arrowhead to benefit both the Rotary Club of Lake Arrowhead and a variety of other nonprofits and local charities chosen by each participant or team.
“Styled after fundraising ‘walk-a-thons,’ participants solicit contributions from those who wish to support the jumper’s charity of choice and their heroic plunge into the freezing cold waters of Lake Arrowhead,” the event’s website reads.
The first $1,000 of each participant’s donation is split evenly between the participant’s charity of choice and the Lake Arrowhead Rotary Foundation. Any donation above the $1,000 threshold is donated in full to the participant’s charity.
Prior to the start of the event, onlookers and participants alike gathered in the lobby of the Lake Arrowhead Resort. Light refreshments and drinks – some of the stiff variety – were available to warm both the body and spirit for the frigid challenge ahead.
Jumpers included both individuals and teams, with many folks opting to participate in some sort of theme or quirky costume. One team, representing the Rim of the World Educational Foundation, donned red-striped hats and funky bow-ties in the style of Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat.
“Nothing says ‘education’ more than the guy that wrote ‘Oh the Places You Will Go’ or ‘The Lorax’ like Dr. Seuss,” Foundation board member Evette Martinez said.
Other costumes included plungers dressed as revolutionary-era colonials representing the Rim Veterans Association. One team dressed as muscle-clad superheroes and Star Wars characters represented the Special Olympics as their charity of choice.
Following the rendezvous of participants, spectators and moral supporters, the once-packed lobby of the Resort began to spill out into the resort beach where the main event was to be held. Energetic music and the rousing words of the event’s emcee could be heard encouraging spectators and participants forward.
With snow still on the ground from the most recent storm, temperatures in the high 40s and water temperatures even lower, a sense of urgency built in the crowd as they gathered on the water’s edge. While the Lake Arrowhead Resort staff was kind enough to ignite their fire pits to provide some warmth, it unfortunately did not make up for the lack of clothing most participants were wearing. Teams began to push forward; most appeared to just want to get the whole thing over with.
In unofficial tradition, local resident, serial-philanthropist and president of the Women’s Club of Lake Arrowhead Polly Sauer led the crowd as the first jumper into the lake. Representing not one, but three charities – the Women’s Club, Special Olympics and the Mountain Jewish Community – Sauer would jump two additional times into the frigid waters.
One by one, the next teams were announced. Jumpers began their runs toward the icy waters. Some opted to run full-sprint into the lake while others apprehensively tip-toed into the cold. This reporter took the former approach, but certainly did not linger.
Laughs, screams and playful hysterics filled the beach area as jumpers completed their plunges and ran stiffly back to the safety of dry towels and warm shoes. Most made the cold walk back up to the warmth of the resort’s hot tub, but not before being handed a commemorative medal by Lewis Murray, Supervisor Dawn Rowe’s mountain field representative.
As teams and individuals gathered back in the lobby following their respective plunges, an overwhelming positive energy filled the area. It might have been the endorphins from cold-shock or just the sense of philanthropy and generosity. In any case, community was on full display.
“It feels great to do something good for the community, even if it’s not necessarily my home anymore,” Jonathan Atterbury, first-time jumper and former Crestline resident said.
To close out the event, winners of this year’s costume contest were announced. The Rim Ed team, with their Dr. Seuss theme, took the award for best team costume.
“I was absolutely tickled when I saw the photo of our team all dressed up like Cat In the Hat,” said Jo Bonita Rains, the Rim Ed board president. “Everyone looked so goofy, having fun – I’m so proud of our ‘Lunatics for Education’,” she said with a laugh.
Michael Gladwell, representing the Special Olympics, won the award for Best Individual Costume for his depiction of the Star Wars character, Boba Fett.
Superior Court Judge Michael Best, Sondra Hughes, owner of Sondra’s Wild Sophistication in Lake Arrowhead Village, and Charlie Harrison, the former CEO of Mountains Community Hospital, made up this year’s costume judges.
While not able to attend this year due to COVID, PolaRotary Bear Plunge event chair Patrick Rains expressed pride, noting how the event set records “by every metric.“
“[We had] … the most jumpers [over 140], the most charities supported  and, while the final numbers are yet to be tallied, donations will be an all-time record,” Dr. Rains said in a phone call on Monday following the event.
“Not to mention we had the most smiles, the most fun and more shivering than ever before… the only bad part of the day was I was stuck home with COVID.”
At press time, the PolaRotary Bear Plunge website reported nearly $27,000 in committed donations, with the final total expected to rise significantly.
Rains expressed deep appreciation and heartfelt thanks to the Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa, the San Bernardino County Fire Cold Water Rescue and the Arrowhead Lake Association for their support of the event.
“The Resort has always been so wonderful in allowing us to use their facilities and we always appreciate Fire’s presence to reassure our more timid jumpers,” he said, “even though they’ve never had to be called into action.”
For more information on the annual PolaRotary Bear Plunge event or the Rotary Club of Lake Arrowhead, their mission or how to get involved, visit https://portal.clubrunner.ca/7199.
Jumpers Hannah Whiteoak (left), Robert Blake (center) and Jonathan Atterbury (right) pose with their medals. (Photo: Sara Green)
Jumpers who chose the Boys & Girls Club of the Mountain Communities as their charity included (l-r) Fernanda Arellano, Marcy Vega, Paul Vega, Christina McGinty and Tom McGinty. (Photo courtesy of the Boys & Girls Club)
There are members of the Mountain Sunrise Rotary Club – Corina Colan, Laura Dyberg, Paul Fournier, Rich Deiner and Jenny Hueter – under those penguin costumes! (Photo courtesy of the Mountain Sunrise Rotary Club)
Video Production, Media Arts and Game Design students from Rim of the World High School interview a plunger before their jump. (Photo: Sara Green)