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Published February 14 2013

Benshoof: Going off the deep end of a lake during winter

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. - As winter drags on and cabin fever sets in, some of us in the North Country are prone to doing strange things.

Take this weekend’s Polar Fest Plunge in Detroit Lakes, where people will be dressing up in silly costumes and jumping into the freezing water of Detroit Lake.

I suppose I’m not one to make light of this activity, having participated in a similar event myself. Two years ago, I jumped into Big Pine Lake while working in Perham.

The experience was, in a word, memorable, but more on that in a minute.

Saturday’s event is a fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Club of Detroit Lakes and is part of the city’s Polar Fest, which wraps up this weekend.

Plunge organizer Sue Trnka has taken the plunge for the past four years, and she knows full well how the experience leaves you feeling.

“It’ll take your breath away,” she says. “It is a shock to the system – trying to speak afterwards, it doesn’t work.”

For those who haven’t done a polar plunge before, it’s worth considering how you want your jump to go. Will you do a pencil dive, to try to not get your head wet? Or will you do a cannonball and go for maximum splash?

Anything’s game, Trnka says, as long as it’s not diving headfirst.

“Somebody could dive too far and end up under the ice,” she says.

In my own experience, I opted to jump back-first. In retrospect, that maybe wasn’t the smartest choice, as I was completely unaware of when I was going to breach the water.

Add a surprise like that to the shock of the cold water, and your body is just plain angry at you.

Because jumping takes courage, there’s no doubt about it. I was lucky enough to jump on a warm day two years ago, but a cold and windy day would make it more difficult.

Is it hard, I asked Trnka, to work up the courage to leave the warming tent and submit yourself to the elements, especially when the temps outside are low enough as it is?

Even the biggest thrill-seeker has to admit there’s a part of them begging and pleading to just turn and walk away.

Actually, Trnka said, it’s not that bad.

“It’s hard to not think, ‘Oh yeah, I can’t do this,’ ” she said. “You want to do it. You’ve raised the pledges, the excitement has built around the event itself. You can’t not do it.”

Admittedly, all this talk about the plunge makes me want to go to Detroit Lakes to do it all again.

But then a part of me that remembers how the jump felt two years ago starts to beg and plead for me not to do it. And I realize that guy makes a decent argument.

So maybe I’ll wait a little while before I do it again.

Besides, it’s called a once-in-a-lifetime activity for a reason, right?

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535

If you go

What: Detroit Lakes Polar Fest Plunge

When: Saturday at 1 p.m.

Where: On the ice in front of the Detroit Lakes Pavilion

Info: Registration runs from 4-7 p.m. today and 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday at the pavilion. A minimum pledge of $50 is required. For more information visit www.polarfestdl.com or contact Sue Trnka at (218) 847-5700, ext. 4, or at sue@bgcofdl.org.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535