By Elise Mckeown Skolnick
The air temperature hovered around 24 degrees, the water temperature was near freezing and snowflakes swirled through the air.
But none of that stopped roughly 30 people from donning bathing suits and plunging into Lake Milton on Friday.
The Polar Bear Plunge at Craig Beach in Lake Milton State Park was sponsored by Grandview Tavern in Milton Township and O’Donold’s Irish Pub and Grill in Austintown.
The annual event’s just for fun, said Mike Reinhart, owner of the Grandview. He sponsored the event for five years.
He skipped last year, Reinhart noted, thinking the fun had run its course. Demand for the event proved him wrong. So he combined efforts with O’Donold’s to draw a bigger crowd.
And it worked: This year’s plunge attracted about 10 more participants than usual, he said.
A crowd watched as participants slid out of jeans and pulled off coats and T-shirts. Some even kicked off their shoes.
Samantha Livengood, 17, decided to take part after her brother-in-law saw the event posted online.
“I think it’s a minute [that we stay in]. I’m not sure, though,” the Ravenna girl said. “We’ll find out when we get in. I’m sure it’ll feel a lot longer.”
Wearing a floral bikini, Livengood entered the water more slowly than some of her fellow swimmers.
Eventually, though, she dunked herself.
“Not like the other people who dove right in,” she noted, “but after a while I just thought ‘go with it’ and went under.”
The water was cold, she said, but not as cold as she expected.
“I think I psyched myself out in the beginning and then once I got in I was like ‘just do it’ and then it wasn’t as cold as I thought,” Livengood said.
She now plans to take part annually.
It was the first time Shannon Rockwell of Youngstown took the plunge, though the event is a tradition in her family.
Her father and boyfriend participated in the last plunge.
“They just told me it’s cold and your body kind of goes in shock,” she said. “I’m getting in and out as fast as possible. I know you’re supposed to submerge yourself, but I don’t foresee that happening. Get wet and get out,” she said.
And that’s what she did. But she said she’d do it again.
“Only ‘cause I’m nuts,” she said. “It’s a once-a-year thing, I’ll tell you that.”
The event takes some preparation to pull off.
The location chosen for the plunge requires a special permit, and emergency medical service personnel and the fire department must be on hand, said Barb Neill, park manager of Lake Milton State Park.
“The fire department had to break the ice and check the area, make sure that there was nothing down on the bottom of the lake that [participants] could get hurt on,” Neill said.
Reinhart is happy to have the help.
“We won’t go in there without the paramedics here. The fire department, the park rangers are here,” said Reinhart. “I mean, it is cold, but they do a good job. We have to follow their guidelines just to get in the water, too. We’d never do anything this crazy without their help.”