Shock and awe
Arctic Splash event lives up to its name
Marshall Helmberger
M. Helmberger
A participant in the annual Arctic Splash fundraising event reacts with shock as she is helped out of the water last Saturday.

LAKE VERMILION— It was tough to tell who suffered more at this year’s Arctic Splash fundraiser held at Bay View Lodge— the 54 hearty Minnesotans who leaped into the water through a hole in the ice, or the judges who had to face brutally cold conditions as they sat through it all.

It was pretty typical for a winter that’s been the worst in a generation, but it was tough to take nonetheless as a stiff 25-mile-per-hour wind and an air temperature of minus-10 degrees combined for what was the coldest Arctic Splash yet.

Not surprisingly, spectator turnout for the usually-popular event was down substantially, but that didn’t discourage the jumpers, none of whom backed out, despite the weather.

But there was little of the usual pre-leap posing and preening by the jumpers this year, as they mostly dashed from a warming tent set up near the hole into the water, and scrambled out for the next dash, this time to a waiting sauna at the water’s edge.

Despite lower turnout, the event raised more money than last year, according to Travis Johnson, community resources coordinator for the United Way of Northeastern Minnesota. An exact dollar amount raised was not yet tabulated, according to Johnson, but all money raised will go towards the United Way’s Buddy Backpack program, which provides wholesome meals to food insecure young people during weekends, when school lunches aren’t available.

Despite the extreme cold, Johnson said none of the jumpers backed out. Among the jumpers was a team from Frandsen Bank, dressed up as dollar bills. Frandsen Tower branch president Diane Meehan, described the experience as brutal. “The worst part was coming out of the sauna and having to walk back to the changing tent, right into that wind, and everything on you is frozen,” she said.

Frandsen employees Barb Burgess and Amber Vesel were also jumpers and both said it was a fun experience overall. As for the jump itself, Burgess said she had no second thoughts. “You knew you had to do it. It’s kind of like giving birth.”

“It was awful, but it was fun,” said Vesel. “I thought the water was really cold but a lot of people said it was colder out of the water.”

Meehan says, in the end, she doesn’t remember very much. “It all happens really fast. It’s such an adrenaline rush that you don’t even notice the spectators cheering.”

Of course, this year, that’s probably because the spectators were too frozen to move.

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