Last updateFri, 22 Jan 2016 2pm

Wintery weather puts no damper on Polar Bear Plunge

Mother Nature played right in to plans to revive the Polar Bear Plunge benefit for Cruz Roja Chapala.

After a streak of cool weather tempered by clear skies and bright sunshine, the climate turned worse right on cue Wednesday, January 13, dawning with heavy cloud cover and intermittent rainfall as a gang of madcap bathers prepared to take a winter dip at the Hotel Montecarlo.

And as luck would have it, the pool’s heating system broke down the previous day, causing the normally tepid water to dip to around a bracing 65 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Undeterred by the adverse conditions, 20-odd brave souls showed up to take on the polar bear challenge, stripping down to dive into the pool at the very moment the heavens opened with a wintery cloudburst.  Motivated by the spirit of the event, the bathers frolicked in the chilly water for close to a half an hour, merrily splashing around to play a quick round of water volleyball and run a team relay race.

The event pooled an approximate 130,000 pesos for Cruz Roja coffers, raised from sponsorships for the individual participants, chances for cash prizes in a raffle draw and extra donations to the cause.

Montecarlo manager Viviana Plascencia, who serves as vice president of the Cruz Roja Consejo administrative board, organized a sumptuous steak grill buffet and bar service set up to fortify the stout-hearted polar bears and rain-soaked spectators in attendance. 

It was Canadian immigrant and hockey enthusiast Pedro Kertesz who broke the ice for the first Chapala Polar Bear Plunge, held on January 1, 2009 with just three takers enrolled to wade into Lake Chapala’s waters.   “People thought it was a joke. Even skeptical Red Cross volunteers were astonished that we pulled it off and raised 10,000 pesos,” he recalls.

The proceeds sky rocketed in subsequent years as the plunge gained credibility, becoming a whacky January first institution that attracted foolhardy winter bathers and throngs of delighted onlookers. 

However, the event was suspended after 2013 when the lake level dropped low and many of the polar bears became entrapped in the thick mud stretched deep across the exposed shoreline.  

In the aftermath, Margy Kassier, president of the Cruz Roja International Volunteers Chapala, began scouting out less perilous locations. A great alternative came to light after Plascencia joined the board and offered the Montecarlo as a venue. The hotel’s beautiful grounds, heated pool, locker rooms with hot showers, and other amenities fit the bill for holding an upscale polar bear happening in a subtropical setting. 

No one anticipated that a cold front would blow in on the appointed day. But even if that was a factor in keeping prospective guests away to remain close to hearth and  home, it was of no consequence to devout polar bears, including Kertesz and those originating from Canada, Scotland and other far off lands where thermometers were registering around the freezing point as they dipped in the liquid in lakeside’s far friendlier climate.

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