Subfreezing temps can't stop some from taking annual plunge

Proceeds benefit Lebanon-based nonprofit agency

JACKSON TWP., Pa. - While the extreme cold led to many of the traditional polar plunges being postponed or canceled, one went on like it has for the last 27 New Year's Days.

Willow Springs Park in Jackson Township, Lebanon County, about nine miles west of Womelsdorf, was the setting for the 28th annual "Cold for a Cause" plunge.

"I was afraid they were going to cancel," said Bob Bennett, who has plunged every year since the beginning. "My thought is we're polar bears. The weather shouldn't matter."

Organizers said there was no reason to consider canceling or postponing the event like others had, because the water comes from a spring and is always at least 40 degrees.

The air temperature, however, was much lower than that, with a noontime reading of 16 degrees in nearby Myerstown, according to AccuWeather. Factor in the wind, and it felt like three degrees below zero.

"I'm crazy," said Rick Wagner, another 28-year participant. "I like to get good luck for the new year. I'll be filling up on pork and sauerkraut later to double the luck."

Plungers were advised to come prepared with a "warming committee" armed with blankets to help them to get warm as soon as they emerged from the water.

Proceeds from the plunge benefit Developmental and Disability Services of Lebanon Valley.

"We impact people's lives in very meaningful ways and we provide a lot of intense one on one services," said Jessica Penchard from DDS.

DDS benefits people living with disabilities, including Hyrum Fischer's 5-year-old daughter.

"It's changed her life," said Fischer. "They told us she wouldn't be walking, talking. They said don't expect much of anything from her. We didn't accept it. We got DDS involved and they gave her a ton of therapy, and she's now ready to go to a typical elementary school."

The polar bears helped to raise more than $14,000 for DDS, an act of good will that'll melt even the coldest of hearts.

Among the polar plunges that didn't happen as scheduled Monday was Pottstown's. In announcing its decision to postpone the event, the borough said Friday that a dual layer of ice was covering the wading area of the Schuylkill River at Riverfront Park. A reschedule date has not been announced.

New Years' Eve fireworks near the Pagoda atop Mount Penn in Reading also fell victim to the extreme cold.

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