Brave residents take the plunge at ‘Big Freeze’

Published 6:36 am Monday, February 15, 2010

Some called it crazy. Others called it fun.

Dressed in everything from a Vikings outfit to a swimsuit to a wetsuit and everything in between, at least 50 people took the plunge on Saturday off a wooden platform into ice-cold Albert Lea Lake as part of the first-ever Big Freeze event.

At the Pelican Breeze boat landing near Frank Hall Park, a couple hundred people surrounded a circle of water about 10 feet wide as the Polar Plunge participants one by one came out of a warming tent, up to the wooden platform and into the water.

Some clasped hands of the person they were jumping with; others counted off so they could hit the water at the same time.

Yet others were even more bold — trying cannonballs, flips and even bellyflops into the water.

“When you can bring the community together for fun, it’s good,” said onlooker Saundra Finseth. “It’s good to have kids see adults have fun.”

The first person to jump in the lake was none other than 5th Ward Albert Lea City Councilor Larry Anderson.

With a bare belly and swim trunks, Anderson plunged into the water, while two Albert Lea firefighters stood by in the water and two others stood by on top of the ice to help him out of the water.

“Nothing to it,” Anderson said as he emerged from the water.

Participants, who were asked to bring a food item to donate to the local food shelf, received a medal and a congratulations from other firefighters on their way back to the warming tent.

While there were many young adults who jumped, there were also several adults and even some younger kids who jumped, too.

Albert Lea Mayor Mike Murtaugh jumped twice near the beginning, and Riverland Community College Dean Steve Bowron jumped later on with Brazilian exchange student Marina Simoni Marques, who before coming to Minnesota had never seen snow before.

There was also a group of nine young adults and their youth leaders from Trinity Lutheran Church who braved the cold wearing shirts that said: “We want to walk on water … but OOPS we took the plunge.”

“This is spectacular the first year,” said Austin man Carter Wagner, who was on the committee to plan The Big Freeze. “This is going to grow into something huge.”

Organizers anticipated running out of medals as they received more participants than expected.

Throughout Saturday there were several other events planned, including ice fishing and a winter carnival for the children, snowmobile runs, a chili cookoff and a concert.

There were not enough teams signed up for the broomball and softball tournaments originally scheduled, and the clouds were too low for skydiving that was also planned.

Dave Villarreal, president of the Fountain Lake Sportsmen’s Club, who was one of several organizations to host Take A Kid Ice Fishing, said 53 children participated in their ice fishing event.

“We didn’t catch any fish, but we had a great turnout, we really did,” Villarreal said.

They had an hour-long seminar on the basics of fishing, and then the kids got to test out their luck firsthand.

“Hopefully next year it’s bigger and bigger,” he said.

Participating children received free ice fishing rods, buckets and jigs.

Heather Janzig, a Freeborn County Jaycees member, said there were seven entries into the chili cookoff. The winner received a trophy and a gift certificate.

“Everybody looks like they’re having a lot of fun,” Janzig said of The Big Freeze event. “We think it’s going to be something really fun to get people to the area.”

Wagner said The Big Freeze was prompted after seeing the success of the winter games in Okoboji, Iowa.

“I thought, ‘Why can’t we replicate that?’” he said.

A committee, with people from various organizations in the community, was formed, and planning began.

Organizers hoped to attract people from all over the region.

To build excitement leading up to The Big Freeze there was a medallion hunt sponsored by the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce.

Clues, designed by Big Island Rendezvous & Festival organizer Perry Vining, were given out each day of the week and the winner was scheduled to be announced Saturday.

Chamber Executive Director Randy Kehr said as of Saturday at 12:30 p.m. no one had turned in the medallion.

The winner will receive $300 in Chamber Bucks.