'Polar bear' dunkers brave Tahoe waters for Olympics

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They say South Lake Tahoe people are a hearty bunch. On Sunday, 60 of them proved that in varying degrees for charity by dipping into a chilly Lake Tahoe.

Whether dunking in a toe or their whole body in the 41-degree water, most participants in the first Polar Bear Plunge to raise money for Special Olympics Northern California imagined the grin-and-bear-it experience at Ski Run Marina would be far worse.

South Lake Tahoe firefighter Kevin Shanahan, the youngest in the department at age 23, took the heat of his colleagues when he opted to go on a $300 donation. He did a handstand in the water.

"It wasn't too bad," he said afterward, dripping wet.

A worker for the Tahoe Beach & Ski Club, Jennifer Marcellus, was surprised by what she was able to endure.

Marcellus designed her skeleton costume to illustrate her frozen-to-the-bone feeling with her husband, John, cheering her on.

"I don't even usually go in the lake. But it's a good cause," she said. Marcellus raised $456 for an organization that benefits 1 million people with disabilities. The event's minimum donation was $75.

After coming out of recent surgery, she considered the lake plunge liberating.

Lacey McKinney represented one in six people from Coldwell Banker who took the plunge.

"I never go in the winter," she said.

Her dripping hair didn't deter her from moving on to more cold activities that day. She had plans to go snowboarding.

City Councilwoman Kathay Lovell stuck her foot in the water while her dog made the plunge.

Special Olympics chapter representatives were pleased with the turnout.

"We're ecstatic. We thought we'd raise $2,500," Laurie Gagnan said.

The event raised close to $12,000 for Team Tahoe and had double the number of participants organizers expected.

Celebrity Winterfest, a Special Olympics event, is Friday through Sunday at Heavenly Mountain Resort. Opening day for the Special Olympics is March 8 at Kirkwood Mountain Resort.

Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at swood@tahoedailytribune.com.


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