Swimmers Emerge From the Water

The first group of swimmers emerge from the water at the Saturday, Jan. 9, Polar Plunge, at Veterans Memorial Park in Union. Swimmers were initially supposed to enter at the far side of the lake but the first group decided that was too muddy and others followed.

Some people took part in the Saturday, Jan. 9, Polar Plunge for religious reasons. Others might have jumped in the frigid water for a thrill or because they like the cold.

But Brenda Bargen of Washington had a special reason for taking part in the event, which was put on by St. John the Baptist-Gildehaus Catholic Church, where she is a member.

“Honestly, I work as a nurse and I have not been able to go to church other than online. I wanted to see members of our church family,” she said. “To be able to talk one-on-one with them kind of makes you feel like you belong still, and you’re not separated from everyone.”

Bargen was among those warming up after swimming out to the middle of a small lake at Veterans Memorial Park in Union. The outside temperature was around 31 degrees, with specks of snow falling when people started jumping in at 10:30 a.m.

Bargen said the freezing feeling delivers a shock. “It kind of wakes up your senses,” she said.

The Villa Ridge church held the Polar Plunge as a commemoration of the baptism of Christ, said Father Tim Foy, pastor at St. John’s.

“We’re going to commemorate what He did for us,” Foy said before jumping in. “It’s kind of a crazy day to do this, but He’s worth it.”

In remarks to those gathered, Foy emphasized that the event wasn’t a baptism for those taking the plunge, rather a tribute to Christ being baptized.

About 20 people initially signed up to take the plunge. They were asked to go in by groups of five from the south side of the lake, where rescue workers set up and the slope to the water was more gentle.

But after the first group of men went in shirtless from the east side of the lake, near the concrete overlook, it was largely a free for all. Some said the original staging area was too muddy.

Dozens of others watched from the banks while people young and old swam.

Afterward, they warmed up in the nearby pavilion.

This was the first time St. John’s has held a Polar Plunge, but Foy said another organization held one at the same lake in Veteran’s Park last year, though it wasn’t as cold. The attendance exceeded his expectations.

“I hope the people first and foremost respond in the spirit of Christ,” Foy said. “This is open to anybody who wants to think of Christ and commemorate His baptism.”

Darren Ley, of Washington, said he took the plunge because of his faith in Jesus.

“It’s definitely exhilarating,” he said. “I think it helps open your eyes up to a lot of things.”