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Photos provided via Arian Smedley.

Polar Bear Plunge raises awareness, spirits

With bare feet sliding into the quicksand, freezing temperatures filling the air and smiles spreading across the faces of plunge-goers, Saturday morning kicked off the fourth annual Athens Polar Bear Plunge. The return of the Polar Bear Plunge, after a break due to COVID-19, raised funds for the Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities, or ACBDD. 

The Polar Bear Plunge began around 10 a.m. with several groups from around the community jumping into Lake Snowden. Amid all the fun, there were several firemen and safety officials watching nearby. 

Megan Stack, a registered nurse and health services coordinator for the ACBDD, brought her children to the event and shared her thoughts about possible dangers, opting to stay on the shore to watch in support of Beacon School. 

“There's definitely a little bit of danger involved,” Stack said. “Everybody does have to sign a waiver before getting in the lake. But most people don't seem too concerned about that. The ones who want to participate, they're just excited to do it.”  

With several attendees, including parents and children, preparing for the plunge, there was an abundance of hot chocolate and coffee along with towels and blankets on standby to keep people warm. 

Arian Smedley, the assistant superintendent of the ACBDD, was excited to see the turnout as she prepared to take a dip into the lake. Prior to the plunge, she prepared by keeping warm.

“This is the fourth year … but we are super excited (and) super grateful for the Albany VFW for hosting this event,” Smedley said. “It (has) raised $26,000 for the Beacon School PTA (Parent Teachers Association), which is the school that we run for students with disabilities. This is my first time doing it because I've been out of town every year that they've done this. I’m super excited, pumped and ready to put on some warm clothes.” 

The morning followed with groups of people plunging into the lake in small intervals, with administrators continuously cutting through any sheets of ice that covered the surface of the lake. Claps and cheers continued from the crowd as people ran out of the freezing lake and back onto the shore for warmth. 

Krystal Palmer, a paraprofessional at Beacon School, said she had a thrilling experience and described it in one word: chilly.

“This is actually my second time, and both times I've had to bust ice first to go in,” Palmer said. “(It was) definitely warmer this time, but still cold the first time I went all the way under, so very invigorating.” 

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