Polar plungers take dip to help YMCA

The North Pole didn’t prepare Santa Claus for the frigid waters of Foster Joseph Sayers Lake.

“Oh, it’s cold,” he said, dripping, after stepping back into the barely 30-degree air Saturday morning.

It wasn’t the real Santa, of course, but Mike Long looked the part — from his hat and (fake) white beard to the red T-shirt and green shorts with bells. It was the perfect outfit for a December plunge into a lake.

“I’m an idiot,” Long said with a smile. “I was certified when I was 10.”

The Munson native was in good company Saturday, joining about 140 otherwise-sane people for the annual Polar Bear Plunge, a fundraiser for the Centre County YMCA’s Open Doors Program.

Groups of plungers, some dressed as pirates, princesses or “The Price is Right” contestants, and others wearing nothing more than swimsuits, joined in the fun.

Liz Toukonen, executive director of the Bellefonte YMCA branch, said together they raised at least $38,000 — and that’s not counting money from a number of plungers who registered the day of the event.

“It was a great day,” Toukonen said. “I think we really did well.”

Money raised for the Open Door Program helps the Y make its resources available to all families, even if they can’t afford a full membership.

Toukonen previously said Y officials estimate that one in four members are helped through the program.

“There’s a lot of need out there for people who maybe just need a little break,” she said. “We really try to look at the person, what’s going on in their life.”

The polar plunge looked the part Saturday morning — fresh snow coated the trees and hills surrounding the lake. And while the sun made it feel a little warmer for spectators, the real question on everyone’s mind was “just how cold is that water?”

“It was really cold,” said veteran plunger Bev Rhine. “You get numb, and you almost want to jump back in.”

But the dip wasn’t enough for one pair, who were making snow angels on a snow-covered hill after splashing in the bitter-cold lake.

Sara Hoy, of State College, thought this scene would be a great way to celebrate her 31st birthday. She even convinced 10 friends to take the dip with her.

“They said, ‘You are crazy, but we love you. So we’ll join you,’” Hoy said while warming up next to a heater after the plunge.

Hoy, who volunteers with the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program in Centre County, said she feels compelled to give back, even if it means jumping into an icy lake on her birthday along with dozens of strangers.

“I love to be community-oriented,” she said. “And I thought this would be a great way to give back.”

She reported that the water was “cold, but refreshing.”

“It was crazy,” Hoy said, “a great way to start a new beginning.”