An event that drives people to dive into icy water in February will benefit a cancer patient.
The 2010 Pocono Polar Bear Plunge, slated for Valentine's Day, will kick off at 1 p.m., when the first participant will feel the invigorating cold water of Henning's Pond in Albrightsville.
This ninth annual event will benefit Kate Hageman Dunham, 28, a young mother of three children who recently was diagnosed with brain cell glioma, a very serious brain tumor.
Organized by Bob Kasper, who proclaims himself as Mr. Polar Bear, the event has been the highlight of approximately 60 plungers a year for the past eight years.
Each year some of the names of the plungers remain the same, but there is always a new crop of people willing to jump into the frigid water, just because they want to brag about the experience. For information about registration, call Kasper at (570) 646-6600 or 1 (888) 727-2985 or Robert Christians Restaurant at (570) 646-0533.
Preparations for the Polar Bear Plunge begin early in the morning of the day of the event, when Kasper's assistants cut through the thick pond ice to give swimmers space to slide in or dive into the icy water.
A ladder is set inside the gaping hole in the ice to give swimmers an easier exit.
Ambulance personnel are on hand to provide medical care if someone feels the need. But seldom does anyone seek it.
The participants arrive early to prepare for their dive. They know that if they want to win the title of Mr. Polar Bear or Mrs. Polar Bear they need to stand out by their actions, costume or entrance style. Girls wearing bikinis are always given a few more points by the male judges
Former participants are familiar with the drill. They know they need to allow their bodies to become accustomed to the cold temperatures well before they actually jump. So they gather on the ice before the event in flip flops, shorts, swim suits and T-shirts, while their audience along the shore line is bundled up in heavy coats, boots, gloves and scarves. Most of the viewers come prepared with cameras and camcorders so they can prove to their friends, family and co-workers that there is this crazy bunch of people in the Poconos who plunge into icy cold water in the middle of winter.
"This festive event is very exciting, yet may be dangerous to one's health," notes Kasper, who officially retired as a participant a few years ago. During the years that he dove into the water, he organized the event wearing a white terry cloth bathrobe and flip flops.
Kasper said every participant must sign a liability waiver.
Along with signing the waiver, participants pay a fee for the privilege of jumping, which helps defray the cost of the event.
Snacks are provided for plunge enthusiasts during the warming-up gathering afterward at Robert Christians Restaurant where the participants meet for the braggadocio, beer and the royal crowning ceremony which follows the event. Funds remaining after expenses are paid will be donated to the Dunham Medical Fund.
A daughter of John and Kathleen Hagaman, Dunham grew up in Pocono Pines, along with her sister, Jill and brother, Kevin.
She attended Monsignor McHugh Elementary School and graduated from Bishop Hoban High School, where she was a great student, athlete and was quite popular. Later she graduated from King's College.
Dunham married Tim Dunham of Pocono Pines and they have three children, James, Mychi and Jack. The family lives in Thornhurst. She is an early childhood educator and works at the Tobyhanna Army Depot.
Dunham was diagnosed earlier this month with brain cell glioma at the Mayo Clinic. She is enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital with the neur-oncology unit for specific treatment.
"Kate remains remarkably positive and strong," said Kasper. "Her family believes that with the help of God, her good doctors and the support of her family, friends and community that treatments will work and Kate will be well again."