The shock of barely-above-freezing water was no deterrent for dozens of thrill seekers on the last Saturday of January. The third annual Columbia Heights Fire and Ice Plunge drew hundreds of onlookers to Silver Lake Beach Park to watch otherwise-sensible folks leap into a hole in the foot-thick ice.
The plunge is a charity event benefiting South Anoka Community Assistance (SACA), a nonprofit food shelf and thrift store open to the public. Asked how people are recruited for such a frigid entertainment, SACA director Dave Rudolph said he relies on social media and word-of-mouth from previous plungers. Last year’s entrants numbered more than a hundred.
Northeast Bank’s director of marketing, Suzanne Sjoselius, led a planning committee that organized the event both this year and last. She said the plunge drew 400 spectators, more than 50 volunteers and 115 people who got really wet. She added that the money collected will allow SACA to buy 160,000 pounds of food, enough to feed 450 families of four for one month.
Columbia Heights Fire Chief Gary Gorman said several Heights and St. Anthony firefighters were on hand to assist, and the event provides a chance for them to train for ice and water emergencies. The firefighters’ yellow Mustang dry suits allowed them to spend a great deal of time in the water below the jumping platform. A couple of the suits were loaned to employees of Schmit Towing for their group jump. Heights Public Works Department members set up the entrance and warming tents, installed fencing and cut the ice.
Planning committee member Ben Harris said, “People who line up to take their first plunge are almost always terrified. But most of them then want to do it again and again, so much so that we had put a limit of two jumps per person.”
A black Labrador retriever was the only non-human to take the plunge. He had no comment after making his big splash.