Cold bodies, warm hearts: Locals take an icy dip to support regional children’s charity

HURRICANE — Bedecked in fake beards, Santa suits, other costumes and swim gear, approximately 30 people gathered on Saturday morning for the second annual polar plunge at Quail Creek State Park.

Some of the more daring divers at the polar plunge take a leap off the floating docks, Hurricane, Utah, Jan. 1, 2022 | Photo courtesy of Ava Stephenson, St. George News

Swimmers braved water temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit and a significant wind chill making the air around the lake even colder. 

After charging into the frigid water, participants made their way back to shore with varying levels of urgency as they sought heaters and dry clothing waiting just a short distance away. But perhaps what warmed their hearts was the cause they had come together to support: raising funds for the Washington County Children’s Justice Center.

“We wanted to do something that was fun and light-hearted to benefit the justice center, and it’s just incredible that everybody came out to support the children’s center,” said Bill Ennis, owner of Dig Paddlesports and co-organizer for the event. “We had about twice the number of people than last year, despite it being one of the colder days we’ve had in the last month plus the wind.”

Groups of 3-6 people took the plunge in turns, with some only going waist-deep and others diving in and taking a short swim. The participants ranged in age from young children to retirees and came from all over Southern Utah to start the first morning of the new year in a memorable fashion.

A trio of friends feel the icy water’s bite as they start running into the lake, Hurricane, Utah, Jan. 1, 2022 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

Registration was free, but donations to the justice center were encouraged and representatives were on hand to accept cash and explain the justice center’s functions.

Tina Harris, a member of the Friends Board for the local nonprofit, said the children and families that receive support through the center often come from dangerous domestic situations with few resources to seek help or escape abuse.

She said the money donated will go to maintaining the children’s center and expanding services. With the mission of ending child abuse in Southern Utah, the center provides medical support, therapy, family counseling and coordinates with local law enforcement to protect children.

“I’m just in awe,” Harris said. “I’m so surprised that people are willing to do this for a fundraiser – I think they’re all a bit crazy, but it’s for a good cause so I appreciate them doing this.”

Crazy or not, some of the swimmers went back two, three or even four times to continue submerging themselves in the reservoir’s blue-green depths. 

“The first time I didn’t get very cold, and so I figured I’d do it again,” said Douglas Fox, a longtime Southern Utah resident currently residing in Parowan. “The second time it was a little brisk. This third time: I’m ready.”

With a personal passion born out of a 27-year career in juvenile justice, Fox said he was glad to support the local center. He attributed his resistance to the cold to long-time exposure to hot weather in Las Vegas and has participated in many polar plunges held throughout the region for different causes.

As the second year in a row with such an event at Quail Creek, the organizers at Dig Paddlesports worked with other local companies to secure funds and labor to cover the cost of the event’s set-up, management and safety protocols. 

A father makes a splash as he and his son take the plunge, Hurricane, Utah, Jan. 1, 2022 | Photo courtesy of Ava Stephenson, St. George News

Participants were required to sign a waiver acknowledging the risks associated with jumping in the chilly lake. State park officials and emergency medical technicians were on hand to offer aid in the event of an emergency.

Following the last plunge, the organizers awarded prizes from local business partners including gift cards, custom shoes and recreation packages. The grand prize for best costume was split between a man dressed as “Father Christmas” and another dressed as “Baby New Year.”

“We wanted it to be something that people would be happy to do and tell their friends about,” Ennis said. “It has a ridiculous factor of 12 out of 10, but it helps the children’s justice center and it’s a fun way to deal with a very heavy topic. This is just something our family loves doing.”

Organizers collected over $200 for the justice center on Saturday morning alone, with the expectation that even more would be collected through online giving, Harris said.

Looking forward, Dig Paddlesports will be putting on a “Poker Paddle” on April 9th. Proceeds from the event will go to the local Kinnick family for treatment of their son’s osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. More information about the event and the benefitting family can be found on the recreation company’s website.

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