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December 11, 2016
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Taking the plunge in icy waters; Hardy dippers support dive teams

Organizers were still tabulating donations on Tuesday, but indicated that this year’s Paupack Plunge broke last year’s $6,000 total.
Photos by Billy Templeton

HAWLEY, PA — As the snow fell again on Saturday, a day when most reasonable people chose to stay home, 180 people made the trek to the Lighthouse Harbor Marina on Lake Wallenpaupack for the third annual Paupack Plunge. But these were not your average, reasonable people. They came donning nothing more than a pair of shorts, sneakers, or shell bikini, along with really thick skin and a brave sense of purpose. In a series of groups, these adventurous polar plungers waded headlong into a pool-sized hole sawed out of the 16-inch thick ice at the edge of the lake and into the 32-degree water.

This edifying event was held to benefit two of Lake Wallenpaupack’s dive and rescue crews, the Ledgedale Dive Team and the Tafton Water Rescue Team. Rescue diver Rhett Mattox explained that all dive members are volunteers, trained and certified to perform emergency water rescues that every year help save lives on the lake, as well as provide the necessary responsibilities of dive missions that can bring closure to families in the event of a tragedy.

Last year, The Paupack Plunge raised over $6,000 dollars for the divers, money that was greatly needed to provide training and purchase new equipment. “We have to prepare for the worst,” said Mattox, “and that requires continuous training.” The dry suits each diver wears cost over $1,000 apiece and comprise just a portion of the equipment needed to obtain the best possible outcomes when on the job.

Spirits were high and festive on this day, despite the blistery weather, as some folks wearing hula costumes or Viking helmets, as if to taunt the icy water, took multiple dips into the lake. “It’s already become a tradition,” said a soaking wet Doug Gabel, beer in hand. “Good times and good friends get together to help out the local dive teams.” At any rate, the plunge is fun to watch even if you aren’t ready to become a participant.

Members of the dive team bobbed at the edges of the hole, prepared to offer assistance to anyone beginning to struggle, and they seemed to get a kick out of all of those crazy enough to strip down and jump into the water. One dive member wore a GoPro camera on his helmet to capture the scene at water level, another pointed his iPhone at the group as they entered the lake, taking movies to share on and the Paupack Polar Plunge Facebook page—which will no doubt serve as well-earned bragging rights and proof of moxie for those concerned.

Waves of goose-bumped dippers continued to make their way through the snowstorm so they could take their turn in the water. Each person paid an initial $25 registration fee and many sought additional sponsorships from local businesses. Prizes were awarded to plungers who raised the most money. After their ice bath, people were invited into the marina to warm up next to heaters, where they could munch on hot dogs and listen to local musicians play live music.

Toward the end of the day a group of giddy young people dressed in super-hero costumes made their way down the hill toward the lake, their excitement palpable and capes flapping in the wind. Though certainly braver than most on that day, the true heroes, those deserving our ongoing respect and gratitude, were the 15 volunteers wearing dry suits, waiting on the edge of the ice, prepared to risk their lives for anyone who may need it, just as they do every other day of the year.