By Paul T. Choate
Jan. 17, 2013. The fearless and the downright crazy will gather on Saturday morning, Jan. 26, to leap into the icy waters of Chetola Lake as part of the 15th annual Blowing Rock Winterfest Polar Plunge.
Held every year as part of Winterfest, 50 percent of the Polar Plunge proceeds benefit Samaritan’s Purse, Watauga Humane Society and the Western Youth Network.
“Those people are flakes,” said Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce Events Coordinator Billie Rogers with a laugh. “They are just crazy to jump in that lake! Especially now with Ray[‘s Weather Center] calling for single digits.”
Want to take the plunge? Registration for the Polar Plunge begins at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning and the Plunge begins at 10 a.m. You can also download the registration form online, fill it out, and mail it to Rogers in advance.
“It’s a good time first and foremost. A lot of good friends and folks from out of town get together,” said Tracy Brown, Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority executive director. “For some folks its on a bucket list and they want to get it done. For others it’s a right of passage — the first time to do something like that.”
To help with the icy shock to the system, towels are provided to “plungers” once they exit the lake. There is also a much warmer swimming pool and a much, much warmer hot tub available to those who take the plunge afterward. Hot chocolate will also be available for purchase from the bar at Chetola.
Rogers said based on the weather forecasts for next Saturday, event staff may have to break through the ice at the lake prior to starting the Polar Plunge.
“It will be a real Polar Plunge,” Rogers said.
Some plungers are just fearless adventure-seekers who want to give it a try for the first time. However, there are also a few familiar faces that turn out almost every year. Additionally, the icy water isn’t the only thing that makes this event so wild. Plungers are encouraged to come up with crazy costumes to add to the fun of the event. Judges will award the famous “Golden Plunge” award to the best costumes.
“Its the best spectator sport out here,” Brown said with a laugh. “You can sit back and watch the crazy people jump in.”
Brown added that he is one of those crazy people who jumps in. As the annual emcee of the event, he joked that he doesn’t get much choice in the matter
“The costumes will be outrageous,” Rogers said. “Dick and Joan Hearn make their own costumes every year and they are in their 80s. You never know what their costumes are going to be. They keep it a secret until they walk out there to the lake.”
The Hearns have participated in almost every polar plunge that has been held, both at Winterfest and the annual Polar Plunge held at the Duck Pond at Appalachian State University.
In a 2011 High Country Magazine story titled “Young at Heart,” the Hearns were described as “super citizens.” They participate in a plethora of events every year to benefit good causes.
“We thought we would do it just one time, but we enjoyed it so much we kept doing it,” Dick Hearn said.
Each year, Joan Hearn actually makes the couple’s costumes by hand, and in the past they have come as penguins, skunks, ducks, flamingos, sailors and octopi.
“It’s not little simple things you put together, she actually sews them together,” Roger said.
The registration fee is $25.
For more information, visit blowingrockwinterfest.com/polarplunge.php.
Photos by Ken Ketchie
Photos by Todd Bush