'Invigorating': Many Brrrrmidji Polar Daze events go on despite cold

On a dare, Bob Panther of Grand Forks, N.D., walked up to a hole in Lake Bemidji in a pair of shorts and plunged into the icy waters Saturday. And he wasn't alone. Thirty-seven people from as far away as Australia braved below-zero temperatures a...

On a dare, Bob Panther of Grand Forks, N.D., walked up to a hole in Lake Bemidji in a pair of shorts and plunged into the icy waters Saturday.

And he wasn't alone.

Thirty-seven people from as far away as Australia braved below-zero temperatures and sharp wind chills to participate in the Polar Plunge, one of several 2008 Brrrrmidji Polar Daze events held Saturday.

On Saturday, Bemidji saw a high of 4 below zero, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Forks. During the Polar Plunge, which started at 11:30 a.m., the temperature hung around 8 below zero and wind chills lingered around 20-30 below zero.

Despite the extreme cold, most of the outdoor Polar Daze events planned for Saturday were held. A speedskating demonstration and the 5K Polar Challenge Run/Walk, however, were cancelled.


Originally planning to participate in the run/walk, Panther decided to take the plunge after the race was cancelled.

"That's what kind of brought me here," he said as he waited in the warmth of the Tourist Information Center for the Polar Plunge to begin.

He said his colleagues dared him to take the plunge once they learned he was traveling to Bemidji for Polar Daze.

"I've been in cold water before, but I don't have any idea what to expect with this kind of cold," Panther said.

After jumping into the 36-degree waters, he said the experience was invigorating.

"It was great," he said.

Rachel Munson of Bemidji also used the word "invigorating" to describe taking the plunge. She jumped into the icy waters with a group from TrekNorth High School.

"I feel like a true Minnesotan," said Munson, a junior at TrekNorth. "I want to do it again. Like right now."


TrekNorth junior Lindsey Anderson also took the plunge.

"Everyone's saying I'm crazy," she said as she waited indoors for the event to start.

"It's fun; it's exhilarating," said Dave Geiger, chairman of the Polar Plunge.

The Bemidji Jaycees, which sponsored the Polar Plunge, decided to hold the event despite the frigid temperatures.

"There was a lot of thought into that," Geiger said. "Safety does come first."

He said people who registered for the Polar Plunge could opt not to jump.

After the run/walk was canceled Saturday, some people who had registered for the race called the Tourist Information Center to see if they could still register for the plunge, said Carol Olson, secretary/receptionist for the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce. The plunge raised more than $2,000 for the Special Olympics.

Lexi Demuth of Bemidji, who took the plunge barefoot, said the coldest part of the experience was going from the lake to the heated changing room, which was located just off to the side of the plunge area.


"I would have rather stayed in the lake," she said after changing into dry clothes. "I can almost feel my toes again, so that's a good thing."

In Bemidji on a visit, Jackie Bartlett of Orlando, Florida, decided to take the plunge while she had the chance.

"It's here and I'm here, and I just wanted to experience it," she said. "I've seen it on TV in different places. ... To be able to say you jumped in the water in January in below-zero temperatures is awesome. Crazy, but awesome."

Also at the waterfront, broomball players bundled up in warm clothes to compete in a tournament sponsored by The Mix 103.7, Real Country 98.3 and Play It Again Sports.

"We're crazy Minnesotans," said Jill Anderson, a member of the North Country Peak Performance team.

Further down the ice, people made their way around a carved-out course in the Beaver Pride Winter Golf Classic, sponsored by Slim's Bar & Grill.

Dave Johnson of Pinewood and Kim Greenwood of Breckenridge, Minn., were among the golfers on the ice.

"It's fun," Greenwood said. "Great weather."


Back on shore, the area Boy Scout troops' Build Your Own Sled Derby brought out a colorful array of homemade sleds and their young builders.

Riding the sleds down the hill at Library Park was optional due the brisk temperatures, said Allison Barta, senior district executive for the Paul Bunyan District of Voyageurs Area Boy Scouts. Children, however, could still bring in their sleds for judging.

"This is the closest we've ever come to canceling it," Barta said. "This is the coldest we're ever had it."

Polar Daze events continue today with the Clark Vanasse Memorial Bonspiel at the Bemidji Curling Club and a bridal show sponsored by RP Broadcasting from noon to 5 p.m. at Bemidji State University's Beaux Arts Ballroom.

Also, the Taste of Northern Minnesota is set for 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Northern Inn Convention Center. The Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring the event.

The Montebello Nite Ski, orginally scheduled for Jan. 18 at Montebello Ski Trails in Bemidji, was postponed until Jan. 25 in hopes of warmer weather.

Polar Daze will culminate with the Bemidji Community Theatre production of "Breakfast with Les and Bess" dinner theater at 6:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and noon Jan. 27 at Cattails Restaurant.

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